Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review of Arkel Bicycle Panniers

usbackroads product--Arkel Bicycle Panniers

After we purchased the electric bikes the challenge was to find a front pannier rack and panniers to fit the electric bicycles.  The rear rack on the electric bicycles is 10mm in diameter.  REI had only one set of panniers that fit 10mm racks.  The panniers made me long for the panniers of the mid-1970's.  Unfortunately, they also did not fit the electric bikes.

The first priority was to find a front pannier rack that would fit the electric bicycles.  Well, it looks like Susie's FX has standard attachments, while my bike appears to have never been considered for mounting front panniers.  Long, long searches and we finally found the Axiom front pannier rack!!

It missed fitting Susie's bike by about a quarter inch!!  It fit perfectly on my bike, if installed backwards!!.

So there it is installed on my bike and if you notice carefully the rack is angled TOWARDS the bicycle fork rather than away from it.

At least, it fits and is level.

The issue then was to find a pannier that would fit an installed backwards rack.  If you look closely at the picture and the two raise knobs on the top rail you will notice that the right side is flush with the fork.

That makes it tough to fit a pannier.

At this point our priority shifted to making sure a small white dog could ride in the pannier.

So this was Snowpatch's riding position for a couple of trips.

It worked great until at 15 MPH he decided to bail out of the backpack.

I did not get to witness the double flip and head over heels roll down the bicycle trails, but Susie did.  So did some hikers that thought it was cruel and unusual punishment for a small white dog.

So this was the end of Snowpatch's bicycle trips until we could find a more satisfactory arrangement to insure that Snowpatch's days would not end on a bicycle trip.

The hunt was on for a set of front bicycle panniers that would hold Snowpatch and make any crashes more survivable for a small white dog.

I went to bikeforums.net and asked for advice on the best panniers.  The recommendation came to Lone Peak Packs and Arkel Packs from Canada..

The Arkel Packs had a adjustable cam system for holding the panniers to the racks.  Since I still had my "Big Red" Holdsworth bicycle from bicycle touring in Europe in 1976, and my Cannondale mountain bike I needed a set of panniers that would move easily from one bike to another.  Here is a picture of the cam system.  Notice that the hooks are also adjustable.  So they fit on the "short" front pannier rack from Axiom.

Here is a complete picture of the rack mounting system.

Arkel sells many different sizes of panniers.  My criteria was to find a pannier that could function as a front or rear pannier.

Oh yeah, it also had to carry a small white dog!!

I ended up with the Dolphin 32 pannier since it could be used a both a rear or front pannier.

It has more room than my Kirkland panniers from 1976.  I was guessing at sizes when I ordered through the web site.

I does seem like it has a bit more room than Snowpatch needs for comfortable touring.

After the first "nervous" trip in the panniers he has settled down and seems to actually enjoy watching Bugaboo running ahead.

The bicycle actually handles better with Snowpatch in the right front and with the liquid refreshments in the left front pannier.   I did put a small sheet of plywood in the bottom of the pannier so he could ride in a level position.

We did take Snowpatch and Bugaboo on a backcountry bicycle tour in the San Pedro River Riparian National Conservation Area.  Bugaboo and Snowpatch enjoyed romping in the San Pedro River.  They were particularly happy about finding a gut pile complete with small intestines that seemed just yummy to them!!  Bugaboo also found a dead skunk that he tried to roll over so he could be "more attractive" the ladies.

Pictures of that trip coming next.  However, if you want to see pictures of the Arkel panniers as they were meant to be used....here it is.  You can see that the two water bottles and Susie's screaming yellow zonkers bicycle jacket fit perfectly.  Here the jacket is in the outside pocket not in the main pannier.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Desert Snowstorm, South-East Arizona

Desert Snowstorm, South-East Arizona

The first clue the weather was changing when all the folks from the mid-west started getting alerts on their smartphones for a blizzard warning for Tucson and the surrounding area.   Their were a lot of comments about a blizzard in Tucson, and the National Weather Service quickly started at issuing clarifications.  Seems their alert system is "county-wide".  However, the blizzard warning was only for those above 3000 foot elevation.  The National alert system must have be devised in the eastern part of the United States where elevation does not change much within a county.

In our case, we are camped 3800 feet so we were waiting for our first blizzard in well over 50 years or so!!
In eastern Washington, blizzard warnings are very rare since you need WIND and SNOW to create a blizzard.  Oh, we get WIND and we get SNOW, but hardly ever at the same time.  Most of our snow gently swirls as it falls through the atmosphere under completely calm conditions.

We also get very little moisture from the sky in Wenatchee.  Quite a bit, however, comes via pipes from the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers.  God, after all made rain for those people without developed irrigation systems.  The annual precipitation is 9.2 inches compared with 11.4 for Tucson.  Not sure if we had to spend year-round in Tucson if we could handle to 20% plus increase in precipitation!!

So the blizzard was a new weather event for us.  The previous nights warning found a warm and sunny morning once the sun rose in the east.  Then about noon the temperature went from 55 degrees to 30 degrees in less than an hour.  The wind started and the official start of the blizzard was announced by the power going on-off several times during that first hour.

Ok, it was not much of a blizzard.  However if you notice the picture of the cactus at left.....the snow is on ONE side only.  Notice no snow on the top of the cactus.

For a blizzard of about a couple hours duration it was interesting.  The wind was more of an issue than the snow.

One thing about desert snowstorms.  The ground is usually still above freezing, so any snow falling on the ground and road services tends to melt fairly quickly.

It takes a longer duration snow event to pile up enough snow to cover the streets and desert floor.

That event took place that night.

Throughout the night it snowed "gently".  Much more like the storms in Wenatchee.  That morning there was enough snow to coat the desert floor.

Notice that there is more snow on the plants than on the ground!

For Bugaboo this did not even register as a snowstorm.  Normally, at home after a snowstorm he runs outside, flips on his back and rubs the snow into his fur.

He then lays for hours in the snow.  Must be that German blood in his veins.

Here he just ignored the snow.  That ball up in the tree has had his attention for over two weeks now.  He can see it, but there is no way for him to climb the tree to get it.

So every time we start our desert walk in the morning he heads for the "ball tree" and sees if the wind had brought the ball down during the night.

No such luck even if after the Arizona Blizzard of 2013!

Still the desert was fun to hike in the snow.  We did see that the jackrabbit population is a bit higher than we previously estimated by the tracks in the snow.  Definitely, looked like only the rabbits were moving about and everybody else was waiting for it to melt.  No other tracks.  Even the coyotes decided to sleep in.

I worried a little bit about Bugaboo not seeing the cactus spines in the snow.  But he came back cactus free.

By noon, the great Arizona snowstorm was just a fond memory.  And the best part was NOT having to blow or shovel snow!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, Douglas, Arizona

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, Douglas, Arizona

We headed down to Douglas, Arizona to purchase a telescope for use while down here.  I decided to pass on the telescope.  Douglas is a small town on the Mexican border, more Mexican than American.  Interesting place to visit.  It is easy to get around in town since everything is posted in Spanish and English.

We ended up eating lunch at the Grand Cafe which is a Mexican restaurant.  Reviews were mixed.  Our food was fine, but not great.  However, the entire place is decorated with Marilyn Monroe posters and photos.  This has been my year for Marilyn.   It seems like every other e-book I have read this year has included her in one form or another.  See review at end of the posting!!

We headed north out of Douglas and started exploring the valley.  We ran into this sign, that at first I chalked up to a lonesome Canadian.

Bugaboo was taking no chances.  Moose are dangerous animals.  However, the rear of the sign revealed a sadder reason for the sign.

As a roadside memorial this one was different.

On the map we noticed a Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and decided that might just be the place for Bugaboo and Snowpatch to stretch their legs.  Navigating along the back roads we came to this sign.  Great public land closed to the public!!!  You know my thoughts on that one!!

We detoured around the sign and wondered if there was public access to the public's land.  After a couple of mile detour we heard such a squawking that we wondered what lay in store.

Sandhill Cranes.  Thousands of them.  And thankfully the land is managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department not the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  That meant public access.

We have been partial towards Sandhill Cranes as for the past eight years we have had a mating pair show up every spring at Camas Meadows.  In 2009, we finally understood why the Sandhill Cranes came to Camas, but never nested at Camas Meadows.  Click for the complete STORY.  Pictures of the cranes in 2010 can be found HERE.  So now when we travel we keep looking for our cranes.

Lots of flying about and all the squawking!!  Not sure what all the noise was about, but you could hear it for miles.

Of course, the ducks ignored all the noise.  Seems they were just happy that duck season was over.

Bugaboo said "duck season is over??....wait, it can't be....all we did was chase pheasants....next year, we are NOT leaving for Arizona until duck season is over".

Here is more information on Sandhill Cranes.  As always you can click on the picture and it will come up full screen so you can read the text.

They are huge birds.  With a ten foot wing span they get your attention.  However, they are all WING.  The body of the crane is only about five pounds.

There is an early crane hunt in November and early December on the wildlife area.  So if you do not hunt you might want to plan your days around the shooting days.

We were there on a raw, cold windy day.  Maybe, that is why all the squawking was going on.  Seems this winter has been warm and sunny for a few days and then cold and windy before heading back to warm and sunny.

A great spot for a winter time trip in Arizona.  Here is the link to the official site: Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

A pretty special spot that we discovered just by looking at a map and taking a several mile detour.  We will be back to see if our "Sandhill Cranes" are winter snowbirds in Arizona.

Best news is that you can even boondock here.  Camping is permitted in the upper parking area a little distance from the wetlands.  No facilities except for a toilet.

There is a sign giving wildlife viewing hints.

We came to a couple of dead ends and had to wander around to find the 1500 acre wildlife area.  Worth the detours.  Be sure to bring binoculars or spotting scope, bird guide, and EAR PROTECTION if your here when the birds are in the area.

Book Read--My Story by Marilyn Monroe.  This was an e-book.  It is actually written by her and covers her life up to the honeymoon with Jotltin Joe in Japan and Korea.  You can actually read her writing getting better and better, but then unfortunately just as she reaches her writing style.  She stops.  Short book.  Like I said it has been the year for Marilyn Monroe books.   At least this one is written by her!!  The Joe DiMaggio book mention previously is better overview of the their relationship.  Just read the last three chapters of her book to gain her perspective.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Yal-Ku Lagoon, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

mxbackroads--Yal-Ku Lagoon, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

When we first looked at the home exchange we thought it was a Akamul Beach area.  The owners of the house we traded for recommended Yal-Ku Lagoon at the end of the road in the Akamul Beach area for snorkeling.

There is an admission fee to the lagoon.  It is brackish (half salt-half fresh) water which is clear and sheltered from the wind and surf.  So a real good spot for taking kids out snorkeling for the first time.  If you are at all slightly uncomfortable being in the water this is a good place for you to try out snorkeling.  The facility is well run with lunch and beer available at a fair price.

As you can see from the picture you can snorkel by just standing on shore is viewing the fish swimming.

It does get crowded at the lagoon.  It is a developed park experience.  It even comes complete for modern art to admire.

You will be sharing an entry spot into the lagoon with other visitors.  There are steps that let you climb in and out of the water easily.

For $20 US you can rent a waterfront cabana for the entire day.  These come complete with a table and the all important hammock.  Providing shade and a great place to hang out all day.  My recommendation is to come early and grab a hammock as soon as you can!!!  Each cabana has its own entry into the lagoon.

Yal-Ku Lagoon is a great place to spend a day.  Bring your snorkeling gear and rent a cabana for the day.  Be sure to have a good book to read.  Wander back and order some lunch and maybe a beer.  Really no reason to rush around to another place.

Book Read--There is a lot of interesting stuff on ageing in the media this days.  Spinach for Breakfast by Sam Almond is an attempt to cash in on the media stories.  Short book, with little useful information but some great opinions.  Your better off going to your public library and getting some of the recent articles on Ageing in Wired magazine.  The future is better for those of "us" growing older.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Xcacel Beach, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

mxbackroads--Xcacel Beach, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

This beach is just across the highway from the Chan Chemuyil.  It has been set-aside as a turtle birthing area.  That is turtles come up the beach to lay their eggs in the dark of night.  The sites are marked with make shift sticks and tape. For this reason the beach does close at dusk.  There is a 20 peso fee for admission to the beach.

When we first came the Chan Chemuyil the beach was empty.  Then towards Christmas and New Years more and more tourists started arriving and things go a little bit more crowded.  Our hope for an uncrowded beach after New Year's disappeared with the Mexican school holidays which started right after the 1st of January.

You can still get your beach walking in, just have to share it with more people than usual.

There is a crystal clear cenote at one end of the beach.  You go south from the entrance at the beach and it is signed.  It is a popular place and for many people a good place to get started on snorkeling.

The water temperatures of the cenote's stay at 77 degrees and are generally crystal clear.  Almost all the cenote's have small fish swimming.  I guess they could be acting like nurseries similar to oxbows and sloughs up north.

The beach is still the attraction.  This is the view looking north towards the point.  That is suppose to be the best place for snorkeling, however, every day we showed up at the beach the swells were just a bit much for snorkeling.  Cloud watching was pretty good.

Here is a close up view of the north end of the beach.  The Mexican wardens that patrolled the beach and collected entrance fees did not want you going around the point on either the north or south end.  Given the surf conditions there were warning flags flying on most the beach area.

Nice beach. It is even worth visiting on black and white days.

Book Read--One of the disadvantages of having e-books available at your library is that you will checkout books against your better judgement just to have something to read.  Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo is a book about a kids near death experience.  This is his fathers book on the event.  His father is a minister and this is a religious book.  Nothing wrong with that, but please this is more about FAITH than an actual kids near death experience.   So just make it a book on FAITH.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cenotes, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

mxbackroads--Cenotes, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its Mayan ruins and beaches.  However, one more natural feature should be added to the list and that is the Cenotes.

Here is the definition of Cenote from Wilkipedia.

cenote (English: /sɨˈnt/ or /sɛˈnt/Spanish: [seˈnote] or [θeˈnote]; plural: cenotes; from Yucatec Maya dzonot or ts'onot,[1] "well"[2]) is a deep natural pit, or sinkhole, characteristic of Mexico, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula, and some nearby Caribbean islands, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. 

The book 1491 did comment on the practice of using cenotes for human sacrifices and then drinking the same water.  Seems that was not the most healthy practice.

Here is the link to the complete Wilkipedia entry on the subject:  Cenotes.

The Cenotes vary considerably in attraction, but they are all fascinating from an eclogical perspective.  On your trip to the Yucatan leave a couple of days or more for exploring the Cenotes.

Most use snorkeling gear to explore the cenotes, but there were many scuba divers that explored through the underwater tunnels and traveled from cenote to cenote.  If all else fails you can use water wings or just swim.

Here are some pictures from the Grand Cenotes which is on the road to Coba.  Crowded and many of the more attracitve cenotes do charge admission.

The story is that the water table in the Yucatan is ten feet deep.  That means that any sinkhole deeper than ten feet has water in it.  Now think about all those septic systems.  Think they are feeding all the sub-surface flows.  Be careful about drinking OR swimming in the water in Mexico.

Here is a picture of a shallow cenote.  It had small fish and clear water just like the deeper cenotes.  The local urban myth story is that there are crocodiles in the cenotes, but it doesn't appear that the food supply is enough to support a crocodile.  The other story is a parasite that crawls into your ear and can cause severe pain.  Not sure about that one.

The cenotes are worth exploring.  Many have been exploited by extreme commercial development, but even there you can see a unique part of the Earth's ecosystem.  Yes, the beaches and ruins are great but don't forget the Cenotes.  You can plan a pretty interesting trip just around them.

This cenote was in a cave along the road to Chan Chemuyil.  The photo does not do justice to the colors.  The story is that there was a croc living there, but all I saw were bats.  A special spot as the rope on the right side shows.

But my favorite cenote was in Chan Chemuyil.  Here on early mornings I brought my coffee and ipad and connected to the world with Benito's wireless internet.  On the park bench next to the cenote the world seemed like a much better place.  Even the igauana's came to the cenote in the morning to start their day.

On a trip to the Yucatan the beaches and ruins will be an important part of your trip.  However, the cenotes will be the special surprise that you will long remember.

Book read--Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.  One of my criticisms of history is that it is generally focused on individual persons.  However, as any leader knows it is important to find a parade and THEN pretend to be its leader.  This book by Jared Diamond was the first to intergrate ecology, economics, sociology and its role in historical development.  It was so popular that even PBS started a TV series based on the book.  I missed it.  Must have been during one of those no TV reception periods in my life.  Don't miss the book.  It is similar to 1491 and 1493, but much easier to read.  Just look at it as a thriller of book.  How a small population of people know as Europeans on the edge of extinction take over planet Earth and the reasons why.  Interested??

Friday, February 1, 2013

Coba, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

mxbackroads destination--Coba, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

This destination is just 44 km west of Tulumn.  It was one of the larger Mayan cities and covered lots of ground.  Here is the link to the wikipedia entry on Coba.  There were further details on Coba and its relationship to other Mayan cities in the book 1491.  It appeared to be still a functioning city when the Spanish arrived in the 15th century.

The google earth view got me really excited about visiting the city.  Those lakes, however, were more impressive from space!!

The best way to tour Coba is to rent a bicycle for 35 peso's and ride the walking trails from site to site. We were fortunate that we were there on a cloudy day.  On a sunny day, you would definitely want to be zinging around on a bicycle.  There are guides that can explain the history of the various structures.

The advantage to the bicycles is that you can keep up with the bicycles and thereby avoid becoming an accident statistic.  Check out that parking lot for bicycles on the left.

A few of the trails are separated so that bicycles and walkers do not mix.

The main attraction is Nohoch Mul pyramid.  The rumor was that come January 1st the pyramid was going to be off-limits to people going up the steps.  Since we were there a day or two before the first we might have been one of the last public to climb the pyramid.  Along with thousands of others.

That rope down the middle was just to separate the uphill crowd from the downhill folks.  The steps were steep and a perfect thigh master workout.

Here is the top.  This is where the killing was done.

What a beautiful view for your last seconds on earth or to kill somebody.  So I am not a fan of human sacrifice.  Still bothers me that history books just gloss over the killing part of these religions.  What on earth possessed people to kill innocents for their gods??  That is another smaller pyramid in Coba that is also part of the city.  In the background you can just barely see the lake.

Only part of the city has been reclaimed from the jungle.  It was interesting to see how completely the jungle takes over even stone structures.  You need a timber sale just to start the archaeological work.

This is what it looks like without any clearing.

As with any Mexican historical site there is a gateway plaza complete with sellers of all sorts of goods.  
I liked this one better than at Tulumn.

A beer and some Mexican food were in order after the miles of walking the pathways through the jungle.

All in all a great cloudy day for walking among the Mayan ruins.  On the way out of town we saw a open air Catholic church that was definitely worth a stop.  However, traffic and a lack of a pull-out made us miss it.  That would also be worth a visit.  It is on the right side of the road.

When I was a kid I can remember looking at my history books with pictures of the Mayan ball courts with that funny ring on the top of the playing area.  It was worth the visit just to see a ball court in person.

Book Read--IPad for Dummies by Baig and Levitus.  This is one of the dummy series of books.  They are pretty good at getting at the basics of whatever the subject matter of the books.  I learned that the files are stored with each app in the IPad.  Lots of other stuff in there.  It is worth STARTING with one of the dummy series and then moving on to other more in depth books.