(Excerpt from our forthcoming book Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3 – not yet available for sale.)
January 11, 2018 (Thursday)
Lost Dutchman State Park
Dear Bob and Sue,
Sometime in the middle of the night the wind stopped blowing, and we woke to a clear, sunny day. It was still brisk outside, so we stayed in the RV and had breakfast with the curtains pulled open.
Getting to the Tonto National Monument visitor center just as they were opening, we quickly learned that they give tours of the Upper Cliff Dwelling—the area of the park we most wanted to see—on Fridays through Mondays, not Mondays through Fridays like we thought. Karen was disappointed, but there was no way for us to come back tomorrow and still make our flight home to Seattle. Instead, we were able to hike to the Lower Cliff Dwelling, which was pretty impressive itself.
The trail up to the cliff dwelling was about a half of a mile and 300 feet of elevation gain; that’ll wake you up at 8:00 am. I read a sign on our way out of the visitor center that listed several safety precautions for anyone hiking in the park. One of the subheadings was “Africanized Bees.” It read: The bees at Tonto can be aggressive. If you see a solitary bee, do not swat at it.
I made sure Karen saw the sign. “Do people need to be told not to swat at bees?” she asked.
“You wouldn’t think so, but here’s something that I didn’t know. It says, ‘Bees sometimes pelt as a warning sign. This is where the bees run into people without stinging. Consider seeking shelter soon.’”
“Consider taking shelter soon, hmm, that sounds ominously understated, does it?”
“Yep,” I said. “It should probably say, ‘If a bee smacks you, run like hell.’”
We had no bee problems on our trek up to the cliff dwelling. The volunteer ranger who greeted us at the site was very enthusiastic and helpful. Just like Holly and Paul, she’s retired and spends her winters volunteering at the park. We were the only visitors there, so we had a leisurely private tour. The ranger told us archeologists believe that construction on the Upper and Lower dwellings began in the 13th century and people lived in them until the 15th century. It’s possible that the proximity of the Salt River—a rare source of reliable water in this desert area—allowed the Salado people to make their home in these cliffs.
As we were leaving, we drove past the park sign at the entrance. I suggested to Karen that we take our photo by the sign. It was a little awkward trying to get my iPhone positioned at the correct angle, but it brought back fond memories of when we took our picture in front of every national park sign years ago. Neither of us said it, but standing in front of the sign, waiting for the timer to go off, I think we both felt nostalgic for those good old days when there were still national parks left on our list to check off. Part of me wishes we could go back and do it all again.
I suggested to Karen that we head to our next campground and find a place to stop for lunch along the way.
“I’ll start driving east on State Route 188; if you would please plug ‘Little Dutchmen State Park’ into your phone’s map, that would help me out a lot,” I said. “I’m not sure exactly how to get there, but it shouldn’t take us more than a couple of hours.” Several minutes later, with no response from the passenger seat, I asked, “Did you find it on your phone?”
“Little Dutchmen? That’s what we’re looking for?” she asked.
“Are you sure it’s in Arizona? You didn’t pull a Lolly and book our next campsite in Nevada, did you?”
“Little Dutchmen. Hello. It’s close to Phoenix. I read the reviews. It’s very popular with the locals.”
“I’m getting nothing over here,” Karen said. “I hope we don’t end up spending the night on the shoulder of the highway.”
“Sweetie, we have a reservation, for tonight, in Arizona.”
“Wait. Could it be Lost Dutchman State Park? Because I found one of those.”
“Ok, the Dutchmen could have been lost,” I replied.
“You mean he could have been lost. It’s Dutchman, singular. One lost man, not a bunch of little men.”
“Maybe they were little. That would explain how they got lost; they couldn’t see very far. And only one made it back, so the name ended up being Lost Dutchman.”
“If one of them made it back, then wouldn’t the park’s name be Found Dutchman?” She studied her phone. “My map says we’ll get to Lost Dutchman State Park in one hour and fifteen minutes.”
My watch read 1:30 pm when we rolled up to the entrance gate at Lost Dutchman. Another RV was checking in in front of us, so we waited in line for a couple of minutes until a man with a clipboard waved us into a second lane and motioned for us to park off to the side.
He walked over to my rolled-down window, and I gave him our name and the number of the campsite we’d reserved. Without looking at his clipboard, he put his forearm on my side-view mirror and asked. “How do you like this camper?”
“We like it a lot more than we thought we would. It’s very comfortable,” I replied.
“Yeah, we tried one of these out a few years back. They did a good job with the layout. Now we have a fifth wheel with more room than we need. Before that, we had a Class A for a couple of years, pulled a Jeep Cherokee behind so we’d have a runabout. Now we come in, disconnect the fifth wheel, set up shop, and drive the truck wherever we want to go.”
Then he paused and stared at me in silence. I took the pause to mean that it was either my turn to share details about my life with him, or he’d forgotten why he pulled me over in the first place.
“Uh, yeah, maybe we’ll try a fifth wheel someday (whatever that is, I thought to myself), kinda depends how the wife feels about living on the road after this trip,” I said this with an awkward grin and a nod toward Karen.
“I never wanted a fifth wheel, but “The One Who Must Be Obeyed” had her heart set on the one we have now, and you know how it goes, we’re just here to make our wives happy. We were in Tucson last week visiting the grandkids. That was a lot of work. I don’t know how my daughter and her husband have the energy…”
I shot Karen a wide-eyed look that said, “Do not mention that we were in Tucson a couple of days ago.”
“… normally we move to a new park about every ten days, but this year we volunteered to help out, so we’ll be here for the rest of the month. Our dogs get a little nervous at night…”
I was ready to interrupt when Karen blurted out, “We’re here to check in.”
“Well of course you are,” he said with a chuckle. “You’re early birds. Check in time isn’t until 2:00, but I’ll go check the board to see if your space is free yet.”
As he walked toward the entrance kiosk, I said to Karen, “How about a little transition, like ‘Yeah, our grandkids are a lot of work too, by the way, we’re here to check in,’ something like that?”
“I had to end it. You would have sat here all day listening to him talk, and I have to pee.”
I pointed my thumb toward the back of the RV indicating that she could go any time she wanted.
“No, not while there’s any chance we’ll start moving while I’m in there.”
“Splashback from the sloshing?” I asked, nodding my head.
When clipboard guy returned, he was all business. “Ok, folks, you’re all set.” He handed me a couple of sheets of paper and a map of the park and then waived to the next RV to pull up.
“See, Sweetie, you made him mad, and they’re probably our neighbors.”
“He won’t even remember talking to us. And by the way, please refer to me from now on as ‘The One Who Must be Obeyed.’”
Our site was a pull through, so it took no time to get the RV situated. Within a few minutes, Karen and I were walking through the campground to get a “lay of the land.” After taking care of business at the restrooms, we started walking up and down the paved aisles looking for firewood. It took way more time than I had imagined it would to exchange a five-dollar bill for a few split logs. The camp host who sold us the wood gave an exhaustive description of each species he had in his stockpile. I tried to listen patiently, but when he started telling us which part of the state each type of wood came from, I had to cut him off. Finally, we headed back to our site with a bundle of wood balanced on my shoulder.
“I get the feeling that whatever insects were living in this wood before we disturbed them are now making a new home on the back of my neck,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s a shower day for sure,” Karen replied. “But let’s try to get a hike in first.”
Lost Dutchman backs up to the Superstition Mountains and looking at the map we got from clipboard guy, we could see a web of trails east of our campsite. None of the trails looked strenuous or long, except one that seemed to head up into the mountains and off the page. I pulled out my big red Arizona map book and could see that if we hiked northeast for 10 or 11 miles—up and across the mountains—we’d come down the other side right at Tonto National Monument.
Today we were just looking for some fresh air and exercise, not a trek across a mountain range, so we chose the Treasure Loop trail. It went about a mile and a half up the foothills and had an elevation gain of about 500 feet; when we turned around at the end of the loop, we had a panoramic view of the park, the campground, and the sprawl toward Phoenix. On our way back we chose an alternate trail that added a mile; we ended up hiking for about 3.5 miles, enough to feel like we earned a beer or two.
Back at the campsite we grabbed a set of clean clothes and our flip flops and went to the showers. Fortunately, they were very close to our site and unoccupied when we got there, so we were back at the RV in plenty of time to get a fire started before the sun went down.
I’m not sure what kind of wood the camp host sold us; I should have paid more attention when he tried to explain to me what it was. It lit quickly, and we had a blaze going in no time. The temperature was dropping fast, and we were a little chilled from having walked from the showers, so we huddled close to the roaring fire in our camp chairs. In our exuberance to have the fire warm us, we got a little too close. I smelled hair burning and looked over to see Karen clutching her bangs.
“That was close,” she said. “The fire scorched my hair.”
“Sweetie, I think it got part of your eyebrow as well.” I motioned to my eyebrow when I said this, and in the process, moved my hand too close to the fire. In an instant, all the hair on my knuckles was singed.
“Dang!” Karen said. “And we haven’t even been drinking.”
“Maybe we should let this fire die out. We can go inside and turn on the furnace,” I said.
“It does seem that we’re the only ones in the campground with a fire going.”
Being that we have to return this baby in the morning, dinner tonight was a free-for-all. We can take home the freeze-dried meals we didn’t eat, but everything else was fair game. After a dinner of cheese and crackers, tortellini, and a huge salad with lots of avocados, I was stuffed. But there was no way I was going to let our 50-cent pies go to waste.
“We have a peach, a cherry, and an apple,” I said to Karen. “Which would you like?”
She puffed her cheeks and grabbed her stomach indicating, “none of the above.”
“Ok, but we’re not throwing out the pies. I’m going to fire up the generator so we can heat them up.”
“The generator time is going to be more expensive than the pies,” she said.
“And your point is?”
She gave me a scornful look and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving me to scrape the blister patches off the microwave by myself. Despite her dismissive snort a couple of minutes earlier, once I set three piping hot pies on the dining table, she was quick to find herself a fork.
“The cherry one is almost all crust, but the peach is surprisingly good,” she said.
I battled forks with her, but she was quicker than me. It turned into a feeding frenzy in search of pockets of pie filling. “I thought you were about to explode a few minutes ago,” I said.
“There’s always room for pie.”
Now we’re snug in our sleeping quarters; Karen’s reading and my eyes are closing on their own. I’m getting used to my short bed, and I’ve noticed that the furnace doesn’t wake me up every time it kicks on. Not sure we’re ready to go home yet.