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.

Mission San José de Tumacácori t

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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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 exericse 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 give it a try.

This review covers the states we’ve visited during the past year (CA, AK, WA, OR, NV, AZ, NM, TX, LA), and includes 40 hikes and 19 bike rides.  Of course, we did a lot of additional walking, but we consider these hikes to be more like mini-adventures.  Each hike had a unique characteristic that we enjoyed, but after debating all of them we agreed that the ones below are our favorites so far.  We chose them based on enjoyment of the scenery, level of effort and the reward we received on each heart pumping journey. Click on the red links for more details about each place.

Drum roll please….here it goes:

10. Cliffs/Mesa/Slot Trails – China Ranch,  Tecopa, CA  : We ended up hiking 7 miles of  overlapping trails because, well, ok – we got lost 🙂   But it turned out to be a pleasant surprise and we enjoyed the diversity of the landscape, from rock formations to colorful mountains and we also learned of the area’s historical railroad and mining significance.  As a bonus, we found a waterfall in the middle of the desert!

China Ranch

9. Lizard Peak Trail – Lake Havasu, AZ : A strenuous 4 mile hike with climbing, long steep slopes (600 ft. elevation change) to the top, ending with a beautiful 360-degree view of Lake Havasu and the surrounding area.

Lizard Peek Trail

8. Eagle Creek Trail – Columbia River Gorge, OR : A moderate 4.2 mile trek along the Columbia River, recognized as one of Oregon’s most spectacular paths.  We traced the line of Eagle Creek through the forest and along paths carved into basalt cliffs.  On this hike we saw two waterfalls along the way, Metlako Falls and Punch Bowl.

Eagle Creek Trail

7. Lower Trailhead on Mt Whitney – Lone Pine, CA : A 4 mile climb that begins at the west end of Lone Pine Campground, starting at elevation 5,640′ and ending at over 7000′.  Beautiful views of Mt Whitney, Alabama Hills and Owens Valley along the way.

Mount Whitney

6. Romero Pools – Catalina State Park, AZ : A 5.6 mile hike beginning on the flat desert floor, this one winds steeply up into the mountains amid rock formations.  It then drops down into an idyllic area of trees, pools and waterfalls at the bottom of a canyon where we took a break and enjoyed a quick lunch near the flowing water.

Romero Pools

5. Echo Canyon Loop – Chiricahua Mountains, AZ  : A 3.3 mile loop that follows a rocky ridge past many huge eroded boulders and balanced rocks and hoodos. This place rocks!

Chiricahua Mountains

4. Alpine Trail – Denali National Park, AK : A short (just over 1 mile) but strenuous hike that rises more than 1,000 to the top of Thorofare Ridge.  The path was dotted with beautiful wildflowers and the reward was a spectacular vista of mountain ranges, although Mt Mckinley was hidden by the clouds that day.

Alpine Trail, Denali National Park

Denali National Park

3. Picacho Peak – Picacho, AZ : The first time we hiked here was the most difficult we have done, for it involved very steep sections with steel cables to assist.  We began with the Sunset View Trail to the summit, then climbed back down via Hunters Trail.  This became a 7 mile hike due to the additional 2 mile walk back to our car which was parked at the Sunset View trailhead.  We loved this one so much that we came back again to try out the remaining trails!

Then a few more...

Just a few more cables to go…

2. Mt. Healy Overlook – Denali National Park, AK : A strenuous 5-mile round trip hike starts at the visitors center and rises 1,700 feet to the summit of Mount Healy, a small ridge that offers sweeping views of the surrounding area.  During our descent we were excited to come across a moose grazing near the path, our closest encounter with a moose.

Mt Healy overlook

Mt Healy overlook

Moose

Moose Sightings

And finally, our top favorite…

1. Portage Pass Trail – Whittier, AK : We began the hike from the town of Whittier, near the tunnel that allows vehicle and train access to the port.  The trail climbs steadily and fairly steeply along the flank of the mountain.  Up, up you go for just over a mile, finishing at an elevation of 750′ that offers views of Portage Glacier, Passage Canal to the east, and the surrounding mountains.  Spectacular!

Passage Canal, Whittier, AK

View of Passage Canal near Whittier, Alaska

Portage Glacier

Admiring Portage Glacier

How about you – do you have a favorite hike to share?  We’re not talking about summiting McKinley or Everest here, just an enjoyable moderate trek.  We’d like to hear your suggestions and try to take it on when we’re in the area.

Next: Our Top 7 biking trails.

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

Hooked on Birds! – Patagonia

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Male Elegant Trogon

From Quartzsite we made a quick stop back at Casa Grande to do some of the mundane tasks of RV life after boondocking; flushing the black tank and doing laundry.  While there, we had a chance meeting with Hans and Lisa of  Metamorphosis Road, who recognized  me through my blog.  Isn’t blogging so cool!  Sharing our travel tales has connected us with so many like-minded RV travelers on the road.  To top it all, both Hans and Steve were in the Air Force at almost the same time during their younger days and  both worked in the Computer Operations field.  We definitely hope to meet up with these great folks again down the road.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Site # 10

We had heard a lot of good things about Patagonia Lake  State Park, which is tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona.  It is about 150 miles southeast of Casa Grande and 60 miles southeast of Tucson, at an elevation of 3750′.  It took us about 2.5 hours to drive the beautiful highway 82 scenic route to get there.  The forecast going in was rain and wind over the next two days 😦

This park has been designated as an Important Birding Area by the Audubon Society – in short, we were going to see a lot of birds!  And that was the first thing I did by signing up for a bird walk tour – a mile-long walk on a flat area which lead down to the lake level where the birds are known to hang out.  Going with other birders, I learned a lot about birds in the region, like the fact that there are about three hundred varieties of birds known to live or migrate here.  The first bird I was introduced to was the Western Screech Owl.  If not for the guide we would have missed this little guy, comfortably perched and blending in with a tree trunk.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl

 

After three hours of gawking, peering into binoculars and identifying many birds, the group broke up a little disappointed, for we did not see the most exciting bird around, the Elegant Trogon.  This is the bird that lures many birdwatchers to come to southern Arizona just for a glimpse.

Bird Walk tour

Its fun to be with a group of bird watchers

But I continued on my own and followed the creek with anticipation.  After half an hour my patience paid off,  for there it was along the creek perching quietly on a branch.  With its brilliant metallic colors – black throat, an iridescent green head, breast, and back, and a red belly – this bird is lovely to watch.  Isn’t he gorgeous?   Yes, in birdland the males are sexier and colorful than the females as shown below, the front and back of a male Elegant Trogon.

Male Elegant Trogon

Male Elegant Trogon

Male Elegant Trogon

The back of the male Elegant Trogon

To see more of my other bird photos, click  here.

The day after my bird walk, the weather forecast of rain became a reality, for during the next two days it was pouring so we were housebound much of the time and made upcoming travel plans.  Even the scheduled Moonlight Hike was cancelled due to inclement weather.  Hmm, that would have been a first for us.

On the day of  our departure we had a watery surprise, a leak into one of our cabinets coming through the slide lock mechanism.  Well, that really made Steve’s morning.  It looked like water had pooled on top of the slide cover and then made its way through to the top of the slide where the lock mechanism resides.  Then it just came into the cabinet around the lock.  Steve went up to check the slide cover, and while trying to lift it he was rewarded with gallons of water right on his head.  OK, daily shower completed!  It looks like some sealing will have to be done up there, but we are just keeping an eye on it for now.

Next up, our last stop in Arizona – Tombstone.

But wait here is one more stunning capture, breaking dawn at Casa Grande.

Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn at Casa Grande