The incredible Sonoran Desert in bloom – Arizona

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Palo Verde flower

“WOW!” was the first word that came out of my mouth as we approached Tucson on I-10 from the east.  We were looking at a sea of yellow as the Palo Verde blooms had virtually exploded!  This was our “nth” visit here, the unofficial home base where we’d spent several winters and one long hot summer.  During most of those visits we’d seen a lot of brown and dark olive colors, and some uniformly lush green.  But this time it was yellow all around!

The Sonoran Desert in springtime, after an unusually wet winter

The weather Gods were finally with us during our two-week May visit, the coolest in more than 40 years according to the National Weather Service.  The locals also confirmed the desert would be more colorful longer this year, and they couldn’t remember a more intense and widespread Palo Verde bloom.  It looked like our timing was good!

The Palo Verde is Arizona’s state tree

Palo Verde is Spanish for “green stick”

Our priority on this visit was doctor appointments, everything from cancer follow-ups to eye and dental inspections.  Fortunately we both continue to have eyes and teeth, and no cancer!

While driving around we couldn’t help but notice the vibrant colors along every road, hillside, wash and just about everywhere else:

We managed to hike two trails: the Cactus Forest Trail at Saguaro National Park-east and the Douglas Spring Trail at a nearby city park.  During both outings we were awestruck by how lush, colorful and vibrant the desert was:

A Cholla cactus bloom brought red highlights to the landscape

The desert was awash with yellow and splashed with red from Ocotillo blooms.  Hints of pink to light yellow from Prickly Pear flowers, and deep red or bright yellow Cholla blooms added to the mix:

Red Ocotillo blooms added brilliance to the scenery

The usually drab Chollas and Prickly Pears were bursting with color:

Not to be outdone, the stately Saguaros were sporting green crowns on their heads, bulbous nubs blooming into beautiful flowers.  They usually start to wake up in mid-May, but a large number were already showing off their milky white blooms that are Arizona’s state’s flower:

A single Saguaro can produce as many as 100 flowers in a season, with each lasting only one day.  They usually open at night and close soon after the sun starts to beat on them:

This Sonoran Desert beauty was sporting white headdresses

All doctors gave us two thumbs up, with extra happiness about two years cancer-free for Steve.  Even Betsy got a full bath to remove filth carried many miles from Texas.  A great visit all around!

Oh, Steve (a habit copied from one of our fellow RVers, you know who you are!) 🙂

Wickenburg, Arizona

We moved on to Wickenburg, 60 miles northwest of Phoenix, to explore it as a possible place to settle down one day.  We placed it near the top of our list after driving around, hiking, talking to locals and looking into real estate prices.  It met most of our requirements and we intend to come back to take another look later this year.

We consulted several pioneers who were milling around downtown.  They seemed to be frozen in time, but each had a story to tell via audio stations:

With the Sonoran Desert as a backdrop, the surrounding mountains keep residents close to nature with access to numerous hiking trails.  We tackled two of them during our stay;  Vulture Peak and Sophies Flat.

At an elevation of 3,660′, Vulture Peak is the highest point in the Vulture Mountains

We had hiked Vulture Peak in 2015, but Steve wanted to give it another try.  It’s only four miles out and back, but the last half going up is a strenuous climb up a steep hillside on loose rocks.  We ran into a terrible gnat invasion this time which pretty much spoiled the hike, but Steve was happy that he made it without the exhaustion he experienced the first time around.

Dozens of gnats seemed to like our hiking pants

Assessing the challenge ahead

Scrambling through a rocky gully

Made it to the saddle!

He attempted the summit, but a rock wall and no available ropes stopped him 😦

The view from the mountain’s saddle is worth some scrambling

Sophies Flat Trail was a fairly easy 7-mile trek through washes, over hills and around Red Top Peak.  It was another scenic desert hike with yellow remaining the dominant color:

Soap Yuccas were in bloom too

Wickenburg in the distance

The Teddy Bear Cholla blooms were waning

Barrel Cactus showed some buds

Our lucky day, we spotted not one but two venomous Gila Monsters along the trail.  One of them hissed at me!

The Palo Verde put on a spectacular show, turning the desert a gorgeous yellow-gold.  We were delighted to be here during a special spring brought on by the unseasonably cold and wet winter that several of our RV friends had endured.  Simply breathtaking!

 

Next up:  Summer plans revealed, more hikes and meet-ups with friends!



 

Exploring Tubac, AZ

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But first…

The slide toppers that Steve ordered arrived and our friendly installation team members John and Dave arrived to help with the installation.  The whole operation went smoothly, thanks to the fact that the three of them had installed new toppers on John’s coach just a few days before.  Thanks, guys!  Our beautiful new toppers are currently being tested by some fairly high winds in the area, and they’re doing just fine so far.

While the boys were busy outside I cooked up a storm inside to feed everybody.  I prepared another favorite Filipino dish – Pancit Guisado – a noodle dish with chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetables.  Judging by the empty skillet and smiles all around a little while later, I think it was a hit!

Pancit Guisado

Pancit Guisado – a little bit of everything in this one!

And now back to the main story…

While in Tucson back in Jan. 2013, we managed to make rounds to several area attractions. We knew back then there’d be several other places we’d want to check out upon our inevitable return this year.

Our new friends Carla and Len, whom we met at Black Canyon City this past November, gave us some tips on what to explore beyond Tucson.  They mentioned a drive to Tubac just 45 miles south, and tempted us to check out their property in the area that they have up for sale.

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We drove down and viewed the 10-acre parcel that sits on a hill with fantastic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, a place for a peaceful getaway.  We liked the location, but we just weren’t ready to commit, as we have no idea yet when we may want to end our mobile lifestyle.  The possibility of living on that nice piece of land will just have to go on our back burner for now.

Tubac Property

Imagine a house here with the mountains all around you.

With that stop completed we began our sightseeing in and around Tubac.  Our first stop was the Tumacácori National Historic Park, which preserves the ruins of three early Spanish colonial missions.  The area was originally visited by Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1691, and Tumacácori became the first mission established in what became Arizona.  We took a self-guided tour of the mission site and checked out the church ruins.

Tumacacori National Historical Park

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The Tumacácori mission church and outbuildings sat abandoned and deteriorating for 60 years beginning in 1889.  President Theodore Roosevelt created  the Tumacácori National Monument in 1908 to preserve the ruins.

Mission San José de Tumacácori

The mission church in 1889

The majority of the church, with the exception of the roof and the floor, is original. Unfortunately the interior was mostly gutted by souvenir hunters, which meant that little of it was left by the time preservation began.

Mission San José de Tumacácori

Mission San José de Tumacácori today

The building blocks of the mission are sun-dried mud bricks known as adobes, and they make up most of its structures.

Mission San José de Tumacácori

Front of the church

Tumacacori National Historic Park

The remains of the nave

 Mission San José de Tumacácori

A display of the colorful nave in the past – note there were no pews or benches

Other highlights of the tour took us through the gardens, the cemetery behind the church, and the unfinished mortuary chapel.

Mortuary Chapel at Mission San José de Tumacácori

The mortuary chapel was circular in design

The mission and church were abandoned in 1848 due to relentless attacks by the Apaches, diseases and continued turmoil during the U.S. / Mexican war.

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The convent is on the right

Next we drove toward old-town Tubac, where from the freeway we could see flags of all the governments that have ruled this little village during the past 250 years.  Tubac is Arizona’s oldest European community and home to the oldest Spanish presidio (fort) in Arizona.  It was once the largest town for miles, then it became a ghost town, then a mining town, then a ghost town again – whew!  For the past 60 years it has been the artist’s colony that we saw today.

Tubac, AZ

We walked through the artsy town where dozens of galleries filled the streets.

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Tubac

An unusual display at one business

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I

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Are you talking to me?

By now our tummies were growling, spawned by exquisite aromas coming from nearby Elvira’s Mexican Resturant.  This place was originally located in Nogales, Mexico, and moved to Tubac at some point – lucky for us.  As we entered the cool darkness of the interior, the decor immediately caught our attention.  Blown glass everywhere – colorful, original, whimsical, and all sparkling from the ceiling and walls.

Elviras

Blown glass everywhere!

We were pleased not only with our food but also with the server who was friendly and attentive, educating me a bit about the dish I ordered – Chile Enogada.  It consisted of poblano chilis filled with picadillo (a mixture containing shredded meat, aromatics, fruits and spices), topped with a walnut-based cream sauce called nogada, and fresh pomegranate seeds.  Holy cow, it was so yummy!

This place was pricey, but it served amazing food that was memorable for both of us.

Chile Enogada

The Chile Enogada represents the three colors of the Mexican flag: green for the chili, white for the nut sauce and red for the pomegranate. Delish!

We walked off our sumptuous meal while visiting the Tubac Presidio Historic State Park.  It was founded in 1752, and by 1854 when the U.S. acquired Tubac through the Gadsden Purchase, it lay in ruins.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

The Presidio of Tubac – historical painting by Bill Ahrendt

On this self-guided tour we entered an underground display to view excavated portions of the original adobe foundations.  It showed sections of walls and plaza floors from the commanders quarters, circa 1752, as well as artifacts discovered during the presidio’s excavation.  Encased in glass was a cross-section showing layers of ash and debris that delineated the different phases of the violent history here.

Tuback Presidio State Historic Park

What is left of the Presidio

The park also featured a museum which displayed the timeline of human settlement in the Santa Cruz River Valley, dating back to the Pima Indian settlement in the 1500’s, and a display of Arizona’s first printing press.  It preserves three significant buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: Arizona’s second oldest Territorial School House, the Otero Hall and the Rojas House.

Old Tubac Schoolhouse

Old Tubac Schoolhouse, circa 1885.  This unruly student has apparently been held over for detention!

Student punishments in 1848

Just a few of the punishments for students in 1848

1872 Instructions to the Teachers

Nothing here about checking students for weapons or drugs!

After a full day of looking and learning Tubac’s history, we were ready to head back home. Since this town is only 26 miles north of the Mexican border, we had to stop at an interior border patrol checkpoint to answer one simple question, “Are you both U.S. citizens?” One quick nod as the drug dog circled our car and we were on our way!

Border Patrol Checkpoint

Steve always threatens to “turn me in” for taking pictures of border crossings and checkpoints

As we headed off I looked back and saw pink clouds hovering over the Santa Rita Mountains, bringing a beautiful close to a pleasant day of sightseeing.

Santa Rita Mountains

 

Next up:  The imposing church of the Sonoran Desert



 

Literally Chillin’ in Prescott, AZ

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While planning our winter sojourn into Arizona last summer, a month’s stay in Prescott was on our list of stops.  Pronounced “PressKit” by locals, the city is nestled at an elevation of 5,200′ and boasts weather that normally averages 70º.  We heard good things about the city and planned to take a break here after several months of more intense travel.  It was time to just slow down and do some looking around in one of our fav states.

Prescott, Arizona

The city of Prescott surrounded by mountains, lakes and Ponderosa Pines

A few days after our arrival, some unseasonably cold Fall weather rolled in, bringing rain, hail and light snow.  And it looked like the cold was going to prevail for some time.  Since we’re weather wimps we altered our plans and cut our stay in half.  As many of you travelers know, weather can make or break a stop – and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t enjoy more of the opportunities offered in this nice city.

Prescott Arizona

Hey, this isn’t what we signed up for! We left a day before yet another cold storm hit the higher Arizona elevations

Of course, the beauty of living on the road is that we can change our plans nearly as quickly as the weather can.  Don’t get me wrong – Prescott, with its four distinct seasons, granite mountains, lakes, streams, and great town is still a very desirable place – but not for us at this time.

Prescott, AZ

Looks like there won’t be any outdoor activities today!

The silver lining amidst nightly dips in temperature and cold, crisp autumn days was hanging out with friends and making new ones.  We knew Paul and Nina of Wheeling It would be at Point of Rocks Campground (Steve’s review here) when we arrived, and we pulled in just a few sites away.  We soon met Paul’s dad and stepmom, and learned about their winter RV plans.

Although we already owned Betsy in 2011 and were planning our trip to Alaska, we were still working when we began following Nina’s blog.  It is pretty much required reading for folks contemplating full-timing, or already doing it for that matter.  We’ve learned about many topics that interest us – boondocking, workcamping, photography, beer tasting, health care – the list goes on and on.  And Paul’s blog, Investing For a Living, contains excellent information for us rookie personal investors as well.

Mead Tasting

Paul shows Steve the way to the Superstition Meadery

Fun Times in Prescott

We had never heard of Mead, but fortunately Paul and Nina were happy to introduce us to it at the local Superstition Meadery.  Mead is not beer nor wine, but rather an alcoholic drink created from fermenting honey with water and various fruits, spices and/or grains.

Considered to be the oldest alcoholic beverage and referred to as “Nectar of the Gods” by ancient Greeks, we were impressed as we tasted a dozen-sample flight.  With crafty names like Lagrimas de Oro, Amnesia and Dancing Goat, we were intrigued as each of us picked our favorites.  Mine was Honey Highway (12% abv), flavored with Prickly Pear and aged in new oak.  I could probably get addicted to this particular Nectar of the Gods!  Don’t miss this place if you want to try something fun and unusual while in Prescott.

A flight of mead

Sharing a flight of Mead – alcohol content ranged from 8% to 16%

Unlike our first meeting with Paul and Nina two years ago somewhere in the desert near Yuma, our social activities here were not so limited.  Paul’s dad Armando and stepmom Ana joined us for a fun dining experience of Tapas, Sangrias, Mojitos and beers at El Gato Azul.  We all shared a dozen different Tapas and again enjoyed picking our favorites. Maybe not our healthiest meal while in Prescott, but the fun of sharing the various foods and spices, along with the great company, allowed us to overlook the health factor this time.

Tapas at El Gato Azul

Healthy?  Maybe not so much.  Tasty?  Oh yeah!

Social

Paul, Steve, myself, Nina, Ana and Armando.  Steve was amazed that the server memorized our 12-tapa order and drinks, never writing anything down!

“Happy hour” is a social time in any campground.  It’s an hour (OK, usually several hours) to catch up, exchange travel stories and just “shoot the breeze” over drinks with old and new friends.  At Paul and Nina’s happy hour we met Bill, a photographer, and Dianne who revealed that she follows our blog (thank you, Dianne!).

Wheeling It

Nina, Paul, myself, Bill and Dianne enjoying happy hour at “The Beast”

When it was our turn to host, we invited new friends Bill and Pamela to join us.  Steve had struck up a conversation with Bill when he walked by one day, and was stunned to discover that Bill had lived right up the road from him in Brentwood, CA for several years.  Not only that, they had also worked at the same national laboratory, although at different sites, for many years.  These two had a lot to talk about – what a small world!

Bundled up for the happy hour

Everyone’s bundled up for this happy hour, but still happy!

Lowes Travels

Pamela, Steve and Bill with their doggie Abbey  They are in the process of buying a home in Prescott.  Hope we can meet again!

Polly

Paul and Nina’s wonderful dog Polly and I got along very well – my new BDFF (best doggie friend forever)

Great company always overrules any weather-related complaints we may have.  All of the friends here, old and new, made our stay bearable and enjoyable.  We wish you all safe travels and hope to meet up again somewhere down the road.  Maybe I’ll have some lumpia ready to go when we get back together 🙂

Point of Rocks Campground

Betsy’s front yard, granite rocks!

The Point of Rocks RV Park is nestled within the Granite Dells, and we were happy to pull Betsy into a small site that faced a rock formation.  It became our personal climbing wall that I scrambled up several times during our stay.

 

Next up:  Scrambling the rocks, lots of granite rocks!



 

 

You never know who you’ll meet at the Laundromat! -Powdersville, SC

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Lt Col K.C. Thompson

A few days before my departure to the Philippines, I had to do several loads of laundry which had been piling up for a while.  Since Ivy Acres RV Park does not have laundry facilities, we ran over to nearby Powdersville, SC to do it.  While I was folding, an elderly man who was waiting for his wash cycle started a conversation with me.  The usual question I get asked is if I am from the Philippines and that sort of thing.  I was initially busy folding so I just replied briefly to his queries, not paying much attention.  When I completed my folding  I sat down next to him and we continued with our conversation while waiting for Steve to pick me up.

And then he said, “I was stationed in Arizona in the Air Force”.

After telling him about all of the things we did while in Arizona, including a visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, his eyes perked up and I discovered that I was talking with none other than retired USAF Lt. Colonel Kermit C. Thompson, commander of the missile silo all those many years ago.  Steve arrived soon after, and we were enthralled by Mr. Thompson’s stories about life in the missile silo.  He was excited to meet folks who had actually toured the silo, which he fondly called “his baby.”

He and Steve also talked about their time at the Pentagon, which is where Steve was stationed while in the Air Force.  Mr. Thompson went on to become a school principal for seventeen years in Hawaii, and he has written several books which are available at Amazon under K. Cardell Thompson.  We had a very interesting conversation, and before you know it his wash cycle was completed!  Who knew that doing laundry could be so interesting?

Lt Col K.C. Thompson

Talking with Lt. Col. Kermit C Thompson


Our Top 10 Favorite Hikes – 1st Anniversary Post

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A year ago today (March 1st, 2012), Steve and I made the final move into our RV and began our adventures on the road.  Wow, how time flies!  One of our goals is to continue to be active and exercise whenever we can.  As you might guess, in this lifestyle it can be easy to just sit, blog, eat, blog, read, blog and fail to get our blood flowing and pumping.  To commemorate our first year of full-timing, we thought it would be fun to share our favorite hiking and biking trails.  Who knows, you might find yourself in the neighborhood of one of these locales and decide to give it a try. Continue reading

Rock Concert! – Chiricahua National Monument

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We saw a video describing Chiricahua National Monument at the Kartchner Caverns visitor’s center, and it piqued our interest.  We had not previously heard about “The Land of Standing up Rocks” as referred to by the local Chiricahua Apaches, and the “Wonderland of Rocks” by later pioneers.  After seeing it, we simply call it the “Gorgeous giant rock concert.”  We opted to stay in Arizona a couple extra days to check it out and moved Betsy over to Willcox, a little closer and still on our way.

Chiricahua (pronounced CHEER-IH-COW-AH) National Monument, established in 1924, is described as a sky island – an isolated mountain range rising above a surrounding grassland sea.  The unusual rock formations here were caused by a massive volcanic eruption some 27 million years ago by the nearby Turkey Creek caldera, which covered the land with white-hot ash.  As the ash cooled, it fused into dark volcanic rock known today as rhyolite.  The continual natural erosion via water and wind has sculpted these rocks and split them into tall columns, pinnacles  and unlikely balancing rocks.  We have seen many rock formations in our travels (like the ones at Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California), but here in the Chiricahua Mountains the outcroppings are something to behold!

The eight mile scenic trip along Bonita Canyon Drive made a fairly steep ascent through oak, cypress and pine forest until we arrived at Massai Point, where the road terminates and several hiking trails begin.  Along the way there are pull outs where we could stop to view and photograph some amazing formations, such as the Organ Pipe Formation, Sea Captain and China Boy.

Organ Pipe Formation

Organ Pipe Formation

Hiking is the best option for getting up close and personal with the extensive outcrops of the eroded volcanic pinnacles.  We thought about taking the Heart of Rocks Loop, where a group of impressive and  unusual rock formations can be viewed.  But due to recent snow and the trail being classified as strenuous, the park ranger did not recommend it at this time.  Instead, we settled on the Echo Canyon Trail, and tackled the  3.3 circuit which begins at Massai Point at 6780′ elevation.

Echo Canyon Loop Trailhead

~Echo Canyon Loop Trailhead at Massai Point

The Echo Canyon Trail is the second most popular path in Chiricahua National Monument.  It follows a rocky ridge past many huge eroded boulders, balanced rocks and at this time held a lot of snow and ice!  The trail was slick and slippery, and it took us about 3 hours to complete the loop.  But it was well worth it!  We walked amongst the grottoes and balanced rocks, which is actually a bit unsettling, as you realize these massive boulders over your head could come down and smash you like a bug if there was even a small earthquake.

At one point we passed through a narrow, sheer-walled passage called Wall Street.

Wall Street

Wall Street

Then the path descended to the forested floor of a sheltered valley called Echo Park, which was at this time covered with snow and very beautiful.

Echo Park

Continuing on the trail we rounded a corner to a grand viewpoint high above two deep ravines, and on to a junction with the Hailstone and Upper Rhyolite Canyon trails.  On this north-facing side of the trail the snow had melted so we picked up our pace, walking along the base of the pinnacles lining the Rhyolite Canyon.

Upper Rhyolite

Along this trail we stopped and admired the many eroded boulders that are seemingly ready to fall.  The lichen-covered columns and pinnacles were colored green and/or orange.

There are 17 miles of hiking trails that intersect in the park, but the best option for an all day hike is known as the Big Loop, a 9.5 mile trip to all areas of the various formations.  The Chiricahua mountains was worth our change of plans, what a fantastic place!

Chiricahua National Monument

One final look at the Rocks in Concert!

We discovered while in Willcox that there are a few vineyards that grow and bottle yummy wines, and they are seriously good!  Two have tasting rooms in town – Keeling Schaefer and Coronado Vineyards.  We missed the wineries at Patagonia, so went tasting here and were surprised by the quality of these southwestern wines.  It was a fitting end to our Arizona wanderings.

Farewell, Arizona, until next time!

Oh my, the Cranes! – Whitewater Draw

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Sandhill Cranes

We heard there are two excellent places to watch Sandhill Cranes winter by the thousands in southeast Arizona, at Willcox Playa and Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.  Both areas are owned and managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department.  Larry and Nancy, whom we met initially at Cave Creek last December and saw again at Patagonia, urged us to view the Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw.  They were just there and advised us to arrive by 11am.  Since we were closer to Whitewater Draw and I recently got hooked on birds, I drove the 39 miles from Tombstone Territories RV Park to witness this amazing nature event.  Steve stayed home and cooked chicken for dinner!

The last mile leading to the Whitewater Draw is an arid grassland of the Chihuahuan Desert which makes it seem you’re in a wasteland, but upon arriving there were open-water areas,  marshlands and mudflats which attract birds throughout the winter months.

Whitewater Draw

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

The migration of Sandhill Cranes is not the only attraction or winter birds here – a variety of waterbirds, nearshore birds and birds of prey were seen hanging out as well as other critters.  While waiting for the cranes to fly in, I walked around the 1500-acre wildlife area and looked for other birds.  A flock of Snow Geese made several passes overhead and settled down by the wetland.

Snow Geese, White Water Draw

-Snow Geese on approach.

And then more people arrived…

Whitewater Draw

By noontime we started hearing a gurgling sound from afar and knew they were coming.  From the north we could see black specks in groups as they arrived in flocks of thousands, and I really mean thousands!  They came in wave after wave and were just amazing to watch and listen to.

Whitewater Draw

The sights and sounds were pretty awesome.  They flew overhead, straight or circling around in a dance, swirling in random ways side to side, until they slowly landed when they found a spot.  Then a flock would rise up and fly around for a bit before resettling somewhere else.

Whitewater Draw

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Flock after noisy flock of Sandhill Cranes kept arriving…

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

And what do they do here?  They will spend the night standing in shallow waters to roost and avoid predators.  Then they’ll leave the Whitewater Draw in the morning to spend part of their day feeding in the surrounding grasslands and agricultural fields before returning to the wetlands later.

Whitewater Draw

~The gray specs you see are the thousands of Sandhill Cranes roosting for the night.

These Sandhill Cranes usually leave for their northern breeding grounds by the end of March, but a few of them sometimes remain longer.

Finally, another one of those fiery sunsets in Arizona.

Fiery Sunset Arizona

Tombstone, AZ – It’s pretty darn cold here!

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Prickly Pear
Tombstone

Tombstone blanketed in snow

Winter blues in Arizona – it was brrrrrr, wet and windy when we arrived at Huachuca City just west of Tombstone.  Somehow we forgot it’s winter and being in Arizona doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t get cold – especially at higher elevations.  Tombstone Territories RV Resort, where we stayed, is situated in the vast San Pedro Valley at 4000′ elevation surrounded by mountains.  Many peaks in this area top out above 7,000′.  Mountain ranges include the Dragoons between Benson and Willcox, Mules where Bisbee sits, Whetstone where Kartchner Caverns is located, Chiricahuas toward Douglas, and the Huachucas in Sierra Vista.  Add rain and wind to the cold and it became  a perfect recipe for staying RV-bound.Kartchner Caverns

So what and where  is a good place to be away from the wind, rain, cold and better still, warmer?   To the cave we go, Batman!   Kartchner Caverns, that is.  Initially we were hesitant to go as this would be our fourth caving experience, but this cave was highly recommended.  It was discovered by two college students in 1974, and they kept it a secret from the Kartchner’s, who owned the property, for 4 years.  Not knowing how best to preserve the cave’s extraordinary variety of colors and formations, the secret continued for another 10 years.  It finally became public knowledge in 1988 and opened to the public in 1999.  For  more stories about efforts to keep the caverns secret until they were protected and how it became a State Park, click here.

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike other caves we have visited, getting into this cavern is quite strict.  No items (cameras, backpacks, purses, food or water) are  allowed.  Going into the cave, we passed through 6 airlock doors that keep the cave a constant 72° Fahrenheit (22° Celsius), and 99% humidity.  Lights are kept at a minimum and you are not allowed to touch anything except the handrails.  We took the Big Room tour and with the very knowledgeable guide we were introduced to the many delicate growing stone “soda straws”, “draperies” and “bacon”, which  are spectacular.  The cavern is closed from April to October  each year because it is a nursery roost for over 1,000 female cave bats.  If you are in the area, check out this cavern!  It is definitely unique from the ones we have visited before.

On our second morning here, we woke up with all the surrounding mountains blanketed in snow and very cold.  But no snow could stop us from going to the  most notorious mining town in the west, known as Tombstone.  First stop was the Boothill Graveyard, where outlaws and their victims were buried.  Also, suicides, hangings, (legal and otherwise), and other hardy citizens from Tombstone’s first days.  It was closed when we stopped by so I was only able to capture one picture from outside.

Boothill Graveyard

Our next stop was the  1882 Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, where we viewed exhibits recalling the silver rush era, the great fire and illustrations of what really happened at the OK Corral gunfight in 1881.  The next scheduled reenactment of the famous gunfight was not until 2pm, and we chose to skip it.  We will just have to watch the movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp to relive this history.  Tombstone is a National Historic Site and is known as the  “Town Too Tough to Die”.

After walking down the historic downtown of Tombstone we headed south to Bisbee.  This town is nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of southern Arizona, 90 miles from Tucson and 20 miles from Tombstone.  It was once a booming mining community, with copper as the main mineral mined here. The city still reflects old world charm as well as good times from that bygone era.  Many of the Victorian buildings now house antique stores, art galleries, fine cafe’s and great restaurants such as Santiago’s – where we had a delicious dish called “Molcajete.”

Broken windowWe had a little excitement during our trip to Bisbee.  We were driving along – big, dumb and happy – when our left rear window blew out!  At first we thought it was a stone hurled at us or worse.  We couldn’t figure out what caused it, so we just continued to drive on.

Arriving at Bisbee, we discreetly parked away from prying eyes while we did our touristy things.  We boarded the Queen Mine Tour, which took us 1500′ into the copper mine as we donned mining lanterns, hats and slickers. Our guide Pete was a retired miner who has worked in the mine for 30+ years and had amazing insights and first-hand experiences that he shared with us.  It is amazing how much effort goes into extracting copper from the ore!

Our last sight seeing stop at Bisbee was the Lavender Open Pit Mine.  It’s an enormous open pit copper mine which is 1.5 miles long, about 1/4 mile wide and 950 feet deep.  The Lavender pit is not named for the color but rather after Harrison Lavender, who conceived and carried out the plan for making the unprofitable low grade copper into productive ore.  We spotted many colors around the pit – red sulfide minerals, and yellow and lavender stone which is a limestone conglomerate containing no copper and considered “waste rock.”

After an all-day tour checking out the wild wild west, we headed for home.  Just as we turned at the junction for Tombstone, we were pulled over by a state trooper who had noticed our broken window and thought we may have stolen the car.  Isn’t it funny – we hadn’t seen a police car for days, but when our window breaks we are pulled over within a couple of hours!  We had to hold our hands up, then prove conclusively that we own the car.  We were in an area very close to Mexico and the border patrol were making their presence known.  To make a long story short, he made a note of our license plate for the record and let us go.  Wow, we got a taste of what it might be like to be outlaws ourselves!

As we were nearing home, we noticed that most of the snow had already melted, yet it was still very cold out.  Luckily, we were able to make an appointment to have the window replaced the next morning, and in less than 24 hours our Honda looked good as new.

Whew, this post is rather long but we did a lot that one cold day .

Rainbow

Steve doesn’t even know there is a pot of gold out there.

Next up: Whitewater Draw