Winter Break for Betsy – Tucson, AZ

After camping at Regional and State parks on the outskirts of Phoenix for several weeks we moved south to Tucson for a longer stay.  Our drill each winter is to stay in one place long enough to take care of all the maintenance and repair issues that Betsy requires.  This year the spot of choice was Tucson, surrounded by five mountain ranges and set in the middle of the stunning Sonoran Desert.

View from Wasson Peak
Tucson, looking northeast at the Santa Catalina Mountains

The Lazy Days/Tucson KOA is also surrounded by several large RV parts and service providers, some so close that Steve actually walked to them for parts!  This stop also meant camping in a park where our neighbors were just a spit away, and we had to deal with traffic, blaring train horns at night and roaring military jets flying around the area most days.  But we endured all of this for Betsy, our home on wheels!  It also turned out to be a great place to meet up with fellow bloggers for a lot of fun.

Santa Catalina Mountains
Peek-a-boo at the Santa Catalina Mountains behind us
Roaring jets
Just another A10 flying overhead – please don’t bomb us!

An upside to this campground is that we drink and cook/bake with the freshest juices you can get.  That’s because many sites have their own citrus trees, loaded with either oranges, lemons or grapefruits.  Ours has an orange tree, and the way my “harvesting” is going it’ll be plucked clean by the end of our one-month stay.  Steve keeps the ladder ready for my regular assaults on our tree!

Orange tree
These are sweet oranges!

Each day here in Tucson brings us cool mornings, sunny days and gorgeous sunsets – all of which enhanced Steve’s mood and eagerness to get on with his long list of to-do’s on Betsy. We have both rolled up our sleeves and gotten busy during the past two weeks.

First we dusted and vacuumed every nook and cranny inside, and cleaned and waxed every square inch of the outside:

We had pros do the major annual wash and wax, and Steve will maintain it throughout the year.  Betsy never looked better!

As many of our followers are well aware, a downside of living on wheels is that things can loosen, crack, fade and just not work so well over time.  Among other things, Steve serviced our toilet seals and linkage, caulked the shower pan, repainted the entryway door frame, replaced a light fixture that he broke with his head (ouch!) and many other small maintenance items.

And for those items that we’re not comfortable doing in the RV park – like air conditioner and generator maintenance – we went just a couple of miles down the road to Fisher’s RV Repair.  Many thanks to Gay and Joe of Good-times-rollin for alerting us to Jeff, who runs the shop.  We were happy with his work and got Betsy back after only a few hours.

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A freshly washed and waxed Betsy shows up for maintenance

A week later our good friends John and Pam and Dave and Sue arrived fresh from their golf stint in Naco, AZ to be our neighbors for a while.  During a happy hour, avid hiker Pam outlined some hikes we would take together – yay!  Then Steve’s ears perked up when he learned that Dave was going to help John replace his slide toppers the next day.  Perfect! Steve asked to help them, and in return they would help us replace ours since it was already on our to-do list.

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The gangs all here (well, except for the photographer)!

The following day Steve and Dave brought their ladders and tools over to John’s site and together they took on his slide topper replacement project:

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What’s this part?  I don’t know, what do you think it is Steve?  I don’t know.  John, do you know what the heck it is?
A blogger taking pictures of bloggers taking pictures of their husband
A blogger takes a picture of bloggers taking pictures of their husbands as Lewis (Dave and Sue’s cool doggie) tries to figure out what’s going on

When the hard-working crew successfully finished the project, Pam gathered everyone together and served up a healthy lunch of chicken wraps and fruits.  That red bag Pam is holding in the image above was later filled with oranges that we picked at their site.  She lent me her juicer so I could fill several containers with fresh-squeezed orange juice and freeze them for our future enjoyment.  Yum!

Orange Juice
It doesn’t get any fresher than this!

Steve’s learning experience from helping John motivated him to immediately order our new slide topper material from Tough Toppers.  As soon as it arrived he verified the measurements were correct and then removed the old toppers and cleaned up the slides for the upcoming installation.

This is a simple job, but it really needs at least a couple of people with ladders to do it without possible damage to the new material.  Betsy will be looking even better in a couple of days!

Slide Topper
Verifying correct measurements, we left the material out in the sun during the day to let it stretch and flex

While Steve was removing the old topper, he was surprised to find a mummified frog on top of the slide.  We have no idea how the poor guy got up there, he must have been a tree frog.

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R.I.P. Mr. frog…

Our first two weeks in Tucson allowed us to complete every project on Betsy, and some medical appointments. Now it’s time to focus on having fun with our friends and following as many hiking trails as possible.

A blog from southwest Arizona would be incomplete without some sunset photos, even if they were taken in a large city.  Different day, different mood, but the same palm trees sit center-stage:

Lazy Days Tucson KOA

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Picacho Peak kicked our butts!

From the Tucson area we moved west, stopping at Casa Grande, AZ.  After arriving there, we did our usual investigation for places with good hiking.  We didn’t find anything in the immediate area, but we discovered that beautiful Picacho Peak, which we had admired from I-10 west of Tucson, is located within a state park about 33 miles from Casa Grande.

Picacho Peak
Picacho Peak as seen on I-10

This striking peak has been a navigational point for ground and air travelers for decades.  It rises 1500 feet from the desert floor and has several hiking trails of various difficulties.  At first, we weren’t sure we would try for the summit, as it was rated “difficult” and we are more into “moderate.”  It is recommended that hikers take gloves to assist with “holding onto the cables”.  Oh, that sounds interesting!

We parked at the Sunset Vista trailhead on the west end of the mountain and decided to check out the first couple of miles.  What a fantastic trek it was!  This trail was an easy walk with beautiful scenery on the south side of the mountain which got us warmed up for an attempt on the summit.  This is now one of Steve’s favorite hikes, with sweeping views of the mountain and 30+ miles of valleys all around.  Gorgeous!

Sunset Trail
Sunset Trail
A quick break to take in the view
A quick break halfway up the mountain to take in the view

After the first 2 miles, the trail became more difficult, and soon we were faced with either climbing steep rock faces using the steel cables, or turning onto the Hunter Trail to descend on the north side of the mountain.  We decided to give the cables a try and guage ourselves (me primarily).  It went OK, and as we continued along the climb got steeper with some narrow ledges actually fenced in to prevent folks from plummeting down several hundred feet.  We trudged on slowly and carefully until we reached the top.

After two and a half hours of tough climbing we were there.  We made it – whew!  We were richly rewarded with a sublime 360-degree view of the Sonoran Desert.  We took a break, soaked in the view and grabbed some lunch to renew our energy.

 Picacho Peak
Pose at the Peak
Picacho Peak summit
Southside view

After lunch we descended 1.5 miles via the strenuous Hunter Trail to its trailhead at a parking lot.  Since we had parked at the other end of the mountain, we needed to walk an additional 2 miles back to our car.  It was a long 7-mile day of walking and climbing, but we were surely glad we did it.

As we soaked our sore muscles in the spa (luckily our RV park had one), we were happy to have accomplished this challenging climb, and we’re looking forward to the next one!

Snowy Arizona? – Tucson

Driving south from the Cave Creek area, we tucked ourselves in north of Tucson, the second-largest city in Arizona.  We thought it might get warmer as we headed south – wrong!  A cold front brought clouds and rain – even snow at the Santa Catalina mountains where we were parked.  For the first time during our travels we were faced with frozen water hoses as nighttime temperatures plummeted into the twenties.  When you think of Arizona, cold and snow rarely come to mind, but being winter it does get chilly here – especially at night.  However, we loved the view of the beautiful white mountains right outside our windows!

Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park

Daytime temperatures were in the 50’s – plenty warm for us to go out and have some fun. Armed with recommendations from Dan H. (thanks, Dan!), we checked out some of the things to do in the Tucson area.  Here are a few we enjoyed:

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, nestled in the scenic Tucson Mountains, is the perfect place to get a good glimpse of what this beautiful desert is all about.  We walked through the open areas and were offered amazing views of the mountains dotted with Sagauro cacti, Palo Verde and many other desert plants.  Wandering through a living walled area, we found lots of information and close-up views detailing bobcats, prairie dogs, coyotes, rattlesnakes and more.

Being from the west coast, this place gave us a good overall exposure to the diverse flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, and the ecosystem that thrives here.  A nice touch from the museum (although I would not call this a museum, per se) is the free SPF30 sunscreen and refrigerated water fountains along the trails.  This place is very well done and a must-see.

We hiked in Sabino Canyon, a spectacular desert canyon cut into the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  There were two tram tours, one appropriately called Sabino Canyon, a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills.  Then there was Bear Canyon, a non-narrated ride that took hikers to the trailhead of the Seven Falls. We purchased tickets and planned to take the Bear Canyon hike, but due to confusion by the tram driver we ended up getting on the Sabino Canyon tram instead.

On this tour our driver enthusiastically narrated some interesting facts about the vegetation and history of the canyon.  We got off at stop #9 and hiked up one of the trails to enjoy our lunch with a view overlooking the canyon.  Then, instead of re-boarding the tram we decided to walk back down the 3.8 miles to the visitors center.  We learned that we had actually gotten the better tour but paid for the cheaper one to Bear Canyon – not bad!

Sabino Canyon
Hiking on Phone Line Trail
Sabino Canyon
Sabino Canyon lunch stop – wow!
Sabino Canyon
At the top of Eagle Mountain

The University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2dubbed “one of the 50 must-see wonders of the world”, was just up the road from our site at Catalina State Park.  We remembered the much publicized “Human Missions” experiments in the early 90’s, so we decided to check it out.  We toured what they call “wilderness Biomes” – building blocks of the biosphere; a tropical rain forest, savanna, coastal fog, desert, and a million-gallon ocean – all under one roof!

Our knowledgeable tour guide explained the history, research, and unprecedented science taking place inside this engineering marvel.  Despite all of that we still ended the tour as non-scientists.

If you are young enough to remember the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, you might remember the “Duck and Cover” exercises.  At the Titan Missile Museum, an underground tour relives a time when the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union was a reality.  The Titan II missile was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 5,500 miles away – in less than thirty minutes.

This is the only remaining Titan missile silo of the 54 that were constructed in the US.  It is very interesting to see and hear about life in the silos during the 22 years they were operational.  Steve had already been here once before with his pilot buddies but thought I would enjoy it as well.  And I did!

Titan Missile Museum
Underground control room
Titan Missile Museum
Titan II missile

Lastly, when you’re hungry and looking for authentic delicious southwestern food in the Tucson area, make the trip to El Charro Café.  Opened in 1922, this is reportedly the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned Mexican restaurant in the United States.  Don’t forget to try one of their yummy Margaritas.  Thanks Dan, this restaurant is at the top of our list!