Surprises are good

Superstition Mountain I love it when life brings a surprise, especially good ones, surprises without drama, unless it is just the drama of the landscape.  Last week when we arrived in Phoenix at the Royal Palm, life did just that.  As I wrote previously, on Wednesday afternoon we read about the fifteen best things to do in Phoenix, and didn’t even finish reading the list when we decided to travel the Apache Trail, Arizona Highway 88.  I wonder how many bloggers pored over those old Arizona Highways magazines as much as I did in my youth.  I would read every story, ogle every red rock photo of Sedona in awe, wonder at the flowers in the desert.  Today reminded me of an Arizona Highway day.

downtown Goldfields Getting out of Phoenix, however, takes a fairly long time.  The huge valley is wide and sprawling, with freeways bisecting the city and Highway 60 taking off toward the east and Apache Junction.  After many miles of hot desert, we arrived in Apache Junction, another sprawling metropolis populated with RV’s and what are actually called “Travel Trailer Parks”.  The community has been high on the list of places to be for snowbirder’s, maybe just a hair below Quartzite in the winter.  We only traveled through, with the Apache Highway as our destination.

Long before we reached the town, however, the mythical Superstition Mountains rose against the eastern sky. Highway 88 is a pleasant 2 lane highway, with the actual mountain itself on the eastern edge of town.  Before we had traveled any distance at all, suddenly there appeared what seemed to be some kind of ghost town.  We whipped around to get back to the entrance.  Sure, it was probably a fake, and probably very commercialized, but it looked fun, and the buildings looked really old and authentic.

great lemonade on a hot afternoon The built up commercialized town of Goldfields didn’t disappoint us one bit.  Especially when we found the tall glasses of frozen lemonade to ward off the afternoon heat.  I had a bit of a time tracking the history of the town, but eventually found out that it was indeed a real ghost town, where many of the buildings were reconstructed, but much of the machinery was from the original town.

After wandering around and enjoying the views, be again got on the Apache Trail heading east toward Roosevelt Lake.  When  I say the day was a surprise, it was because I had never heard of the Apache Trail until a casual mention by Wes last week asking if we had driven that road.  Here is a quote from Theodore (not Franklin!) Roosevelt: “The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the  Rockies, and the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.”  Well, coming from Teddy, one of my favorite historical heroes, it must be really something, since he explored so much of the world and saved so much of it for our viewing pleasure.

Apache Trail (28) Initially the road was paved, two lane highway, a bit winding, and steep in places, but not unmanageable.  As we continued east, however the vistas got bigger, the canyons deeper, the colors brighter.  After taking many photos of blooming cactus and distant mountains, we reached the unpaved portion of the road.  Another 22 miles were ahead of us before we again would travel on pavement at Roosevelt Lake.  I have to say that Roosevelt Lake was another surprise, since in all the blogging about the world of Arizona, I don’t remember ever even hearing of this place. 

Apache Trail (43) I think it took us about 7 hours to traverse the entire route to Globe and connect again with Highway 60, and it was enchanting every single moment.  The most exciting moment was rounding a steep long curve and seeing the face of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam looming right in front of us above Apache Lake.  I somehow had no clue there was a dam there, although a closer inspection of my maps would have shown them.  All that water in the desert, silly, of COURSE there is a dam there, and a big one.  This dam was built of bricks, yes bricks, and is the largest masonry dam in the country, probably because they don’t do that any more.  It was started in 1903 and completed in 1911, and the Apache Trail then became a tourist route for scenic drives.  Can you imagine those old cars on this road??

Mar 30 Apache Trail Once beyond the dam, the beautiful vista of Roosevelt Lake opened up before us, with the Roosevelt Bridge framing the view.  Another wonder, this bridge was built to route traffic across the lake so that repairs could be made to the dam.  Someone said that the dam is almost always in some state of disrepair and repair.  The graceful bridge is listed among the 12 best in the United States, along with the Golden Gate and the Brooklyn Bridge. Again on pavement, we traveled quickly east past the Tonto National Monument, too late to go up the road behind locked gates and view the cliff dwellings, another surprise, since I hadn’t heard of this place either.  Arizonan’s will probably think I must have been under a rock to miss all this, but in all my years of traveling the southwest, I never learned of these places.  What a treat to find an unknown world right under my nose.

Mar 30 Apache Trail1 I wished for more time to go into the visitor centers, to see the cliff dwellings, to learn more about the building of the road and the dam.  We intersected Highway 60 about 3 miles west of Globe, and it was almost dark, so the scenic highway was merely fantastic silhouettes and shadows as we hurtled down the steep canyon back to the great salty valley that is home to Phoenix. Once again on the freeway, we were subjected to the erratic, speed demon fast, pass you in the right lane going 80 kind of traffic that seems to be the norm around Phoenix.  Once again we drove into a dark campground and found the cat waiting patiently on the dash, meowing at us indignantly.

It was a great day of driving and short hikes taking photos, and being back in the wild world of the Arizona desert mountain landscape.

Eventually the internet will smile on me and I will have a connection that will allow me to upload the photos to Picasa.  For more vistas of the highway, check here.

Family and Friends in the Desert

Sharon and Joan friends for 40 plus years Our first preference for a destination wouldn’t necessarily be the big cities of Tucson and Phoenix.  We both love the wide open vistas of the desert, preferably without telephone poles and skyscrapers, and miles and miles of traffic.  However, another advantage of traveling in an RV is the opportunity to spend time with friends and family that we might not manage otherwise.  Hence our decision to spend quite a bit of time both in Tucson and in Phoenix.

In addition to our friends in Sahuarita, we spent another day with a long time friend of Mo’s in Green Valley.  Joan lives in another large gated retirement community with winding streets, a dog park, a community center, swimming pool, and lots of amenities nearby in Green Valley.  Joan’s home is big and cool and with her recently glassed in patio, was a great place to leave Abby and her dog Rusty while we spent the day visiting the historic town of Tubac, just a few miles south.

I wanted pots! Tubac was at one time a Presidio, and there is a nice state park in addition to several charming guest houses and a ton of interesting shopping choices.  It was a bit like going to Mexico without having to go to Mexico, and some great art thrown in. We looked around town, enjoying the colorful pots and garden art, and exploring the Art Museum.  Lunch was relaxed until Joan checked her messages and found out that Abby had been barking incessantly since we left and the neighbors were in a bit of a snit.  Bummer.  Abby is so good in so many ways, but the separation anxiety makes it hard to leave her anywhere except with a dog sitter who is paid to sit with her.  We skipped the rest of our shopping excursion and rushed back home.

door to the art museum Once there, Abby was a perfect lady, lying quietly at Mo’s feet as if nothing was wrong at all.  She is a perfect house guest, even if Mo isn’t there, she will be quiet and calm with whomever is caring for her.  Only the slobbered up windows gave any indication that anything was ever wrong at all.  We took the dogs to the dog park for some fun and then came back to Joan’s house for another lovely supper and more conversation around the dinner table.  Once again, it was a long dark ride back to Tucson and home and the patiently waiting cat.

Early Wednesday morning we were back on the road heading for Phoenix. We did look into the Luke AFB Military Family Camp, but it certainly didn’t have the reputation of our previous digs at Davis-Monthan.  The instructions said “choose a site and be sure the electricity is operating before you check in”.   Another review referred to the constant barrage of fighter jet aircraft noise day and night.  With temperatures in the 90’s this week, we definitely couldn’t boondock, so dipped into our Streets and Trips program to see what might be available north in Phoenix. 

Phoenix (5) Just a few miles from one set of relatives, we found the Royal Palm Mobile Home and RV Resort.  When it says “mobile home’ and ‘”resort” in the same line we usually figure we are in for one of those places that wants to sell a lot.  Since it was a CampClub listed park, however, we called anyway.  Sure enough, they had a spot with full hookups, 16 bucks a day.  Electricity!  Of course, the WiFi was extra, and I never did get it to work, and the owner gave me some sort of complex story about why they didn’t have cable tv, but it didn’t matter much because we were there to visit relatives, not relax in a city center kind of RV park. When we finally checked out the pool on our morning walk this morning before leaving, we decided it was pretty small for a park as big as this.  It was also pretty darn warm!

Phoenix (8) We landed in early afternoon, immediately turned on the air conditioning and called the relatives to schedule a convenient time to visit.  Once arrangements were made for the following day, we used the iPhone to check out what to do in Phoenix. Found another website, “The Fifteen Things to do While In Phoenix” and when we got to number 7, drive the Apache Highway, both of us said, “Yup, that’s it”.  We could take the dog, be in the cool car, and still get out to see something interesting.  I’ll write about that part of the day in a separate blog, because it was an incredible treat, and I took lots of photos. We didn’t get back to the park until late, and with a sandwich for supper we fell asleep with the windows open and the Fantastic Fan on full blast.

The next morning we first visited Mo’s cousin Jim, who with his wife Linda has lived in the Phoenix area since 1994.  They love living here and love the convenience of their location in the city.  Their home was at the base of a mountainous park nearby, and within a lovely resort now owned by the Hilton.  Linda served us a great breakfast, and then Jim treated us (mostly me) to his technical savvy about all things computer related.  He also showed many of his great photos taken with a Nikon D-60 on his huge flat screen very high def TV.  Nice morning.  Jim is very much into the family genealogy and we got a great tour through some family history and stories.

Phoenix Mid-day, we had just enough time to get across Phoenix to Sun City Grand near Surprise to visit Mo’s Uncle Albert and his wife Caroline. They live in a sprawling, very elegant, Del Webb community with 4 18 hole golf courses, a huge recreation center, and a club for just about anything in the world you could want to do.  Their home was all soft white and pristine, with wide open views of the golf course.  Caroline served us lunch while Uncle Al continued the stories of the Ross family history.  Mo’s mother was from a family of ten kids, and Uncle Al was one of the younger uncles.  Mo has lots of great memories of the many uncles teaching her to play basketball, taking her fishing, and doing all sorts of fun things along the mighty Columbia River where she grew up.

Phoenix (2) We looked at many more historic family photos from the homestead in North Dakota, the cemeteries we visited last summer, and the family homes in St Helens, Oregon.  What a family, and what a history!  Of course, the wild ones, the skeletons in the closet were the most fun, with Billy Bob, hanged for horse stealing, being a star.  Many of the uncles and cousins have history as military airmen and some have been commercial pilots.  Mechanical skill seems to run in the family, so Mo comes by it naturally.  Gee, with all those uncles and brothers, it’s no wonder.

DSC_7283 Uncle Al kept us entertained until late in the afternoon, when Cousin Jim called and wanted to confirm an early evening date for drinks and supper at Aunt Chilada’s, near their home.  We didn’t even have time to stop in to the MoHo to say hi to Jeremy, and just drove through the crazy traffic  back across the city once more.  Supper was also great, with lots more stories and laughs.

It was long after dark when we finally returned to our park and the patient cat sitting in the window wondering when we might settle down again.  The last of the “visiting” is over now, and we are traveling north toward Laughlin before once again winding our way into some wild open desert landscape.  Visiting is nice, it’s great to get to see relatives and friends, but it’s time for some companionable silence and wide open vistas, for sure!DSC_7284

Tucson, Bisbee, and Fort Huachuca

(Been trying to post for 3 days now, hopefully this time will be the charm!)

AFB Military Family Camp Somehow, without paying attention, it became Monday.  At the moment, on Monday afternoon, I am propped up on the bed with pillows and the computer with the late afternoon light sifting in the windows through the shades.  The air conditioner is running pretty steady now, after a lovely day with the Fantastic Fan keeping us cool enough till mid-afternoon when we came in and turned on the air conditioner.  It’s probably in the high 70’s, low eighties today in Tucson, and the breeze is brisk enough that we took down our awning, but not so brisk that it isn’t pleasant.

Great dog park here at the AFB camp

AFB Military Family Camp (3)Three days have passed in the blink of an eye, punctuated by visits with friends, walking tours, long drives, and cool evenings.  Ahh, it’s the desert.  Home in Klamath it is snowing again, and a few text messages from my daughter have made me very happy to be here and not there.  This was a “catch-up-day”, you know those kind, when you do laundry, sit in the chairs and watch the sky, and hopefully manage all the photos and try to remember the last busy times.  I haven’t had a particularly fast connection here at the base, so haven’t kept up on blogs.  We also don’t have a satellite, and the TV stations we have dialed in are in Spanish, so I’m not sure just what is going on outside the world either.  Kind of nice to disconnect a bit, I think. 

Downtown Tucson has some amazing colors

Tucson Mar 26 (10)A highlight of the day was a delightful visit from Randy of the Roadrunner Chronicles.  We knew he and Pam were in the park, but weren’t sure of their rig, so every day we would walk around looking for South Dakota plates trying to see if they were around.  Finally this morning I saw a rig that I thought might be theirs, and timidly knocked on their door.  It’s always a bit of a dilemma deciding whether or not to bother someone without all the texting and emailing back and forth beforehand and we hadn’t done any of that.  Randy and Pam blinked into the sunlight and said “Hi” most graciously while they tried desperately to remember just who I was.  We shook hands and didn’t stay long.  Later, however,  Randy came over to our place and we had some laughs and great conversation once he sifted out the details and picked us out from the dozens of bloggers who follow Randy and Pam across the country doing amazing Habitat for Humanity volunteer work.  What a charming couple.  

Tucson Mar 26 (5)When we arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB Family Camp Friday night there were no spaces available so we opted to dry camp in the overflow lot, quite a pleasant place actually, with the dog park just outside our door.  We were in sixth place for the 12 sites to be vacated on Saturday, and just had to be there at nine am to claim a spot in the park.  Without a hitch, we got a perfect end site with a view of the mountains to the north, and full hookups for $17.00, although there is no cable TV.  The Wi-Fi isn’t bad at certain times of the day, but other times it crawls along miserably.  We heard there would be reveille in the mornings and taps at night, but since it was the weekend, we didn’t hear anything until this afternoon.  This is one of the larger Military Family Camps with lots of amenities, and almost in the very middle of Tucson, so there is an incredible array of entertainment available.  For us, we just wanted to be close enough to visit some friends in the area in addition to at last seeing the town of Bisbee.

Tucson Mar 26 (24) Once settled in to our spot, with a 3pm visit scheduled to our friends in Sahaurita south of town, we decided that a visit to downtown Tucson would be a nice way to spend the rest of the day until then. We found the downtown visitor center, a place to park in the shade with no time limits on a Saturday, and followed the turquoise line for the 2 1/2 mile tour of the downtown part of the city.  We just happened to be on the right day for a fabulous art show at the Tucson Museum of Art, with white canopied booths in all directions filled with real art, not just crafts, but “art”.  I was amazed at the color and creativity of the artists, and only managed to get away by the skin of my teeth without buying more “stuff” for walls at home that are already too full.  It was great that we could take Abby on the walk with us, and we found many people walking about town with their dogs. I especially loved the Presidio, with its murals of early Arizona life on it’s interior adobe walls. 

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Tucson Mar 26 (47) Wes and Gayle are summer residents of Rocky Point, with a lovely home next to ours, and their main home in Sahuarita.  Gayle is a great cook and they both love to entertain, so we knew we were in for a treat.  When we arrived,  they immediately loaded us up in their SUV for a drive to Madera Canyon, near Bald Mountain, not very far south from their home.  There are hiking trails and birding viewpoints along the way, and there is a special migratory parrot that only comes here from South America.  We didn’t see the parrots, but there were lots off other birds enjoying the feeders at the bird viewing platform along the canyon.

Home again to a great supper and some more of the extra special Cosmopolitan’s that Gayle makes.  When we were here for New Year’s in 2007 I had one and have ordered them now and then since and still never had anything as tasty as that Tucson Mar 26 (54)cranberry/pomegranate/lime thing that Gayle makes.  Oh yea, I think there is vodka in there as well.   It was a great evening watching the roadrunner and quail in the yard, checking out Wes’s new cactus gardens and shop, and enjoying Gayle’s sparkling conversation.  We saw sad evidence of the winter just past, with many of their plants permanently damaged from the bitter cold.  The tiny leaves on the mesquite trees have yet to come out, but many of the palms around Tucson are brown and tattered with only a bit of green emerging from the center of the trees. This last winter broke all records, as many snowbirders can attest. The blog stories of the Arizona winter were fairly extreme this year.

picture pretty quarters On Sunday we decided to drive a circular route to Bisbee, visiting Fort Huachuca along the way and returning via Tombstone.  Originally we had planned to stay at the Military Family Camp at the fort, but changed those plans when we realized how close many of the things we wanted to see were to Tucson.  It seemed much smarter for us to park the rig that gets 10 mpg and drive the one that gets 30, and to stay in one place and visit the others.  Even though gas here at the base is only 3.27, that is still pretty darn expensive to be running around when we really don’t need to.  Besides, it’s nice to stay put a bit.

parade grounds at the base of the mountains, graduation ceremonies are here We wanted to check out the campground at Fort Huachuca, but Mo also wanted to revisit the base where she attended training as an intelligence analyst in 1985.  She spent three months there during the winter and had good memories of the experience.  Once on the base, she said that much of the area had changed and it was hard to find parts that were familiar to her, but the mountains were lovely, with the base against the sideslope with a gorgeous view of the desert to the northeast.  We found the older part of the base with beautiful historic officers quarters, the parade ground, and the Fort Museum.

Bisbee (11) After our visit to the base, it was just a short drive beyond Sierra Vista to the winding road to Bisbee.  So many folks have so many good things to say about Bisbee that I was a bit skeptical.  Could it really be THAT great??!  Turns out that yes, Bisbee is that great.  It’s a charming mining town, with interesting people, great art, lots of things to do, good restaurants, and it is extremely dog friendly.  We found the ice cream shop, wandered the main street, with many shop keepers urging us to bring Abby in with us rather than having Mo wait outside on a bench while I browsed.  The people were friendly and conversational, and I enjoyed visiting with some of the shop owners.  When I asked one woman how things were going, she opened up and said, “Not so great.  Most of us are doing about half what we did last year, and do you notice that no one is carrying anything they have purchased?  No one has a bag in hand.”  She loved it, though, seemed to love her shop and her life and was ok with how things were going.

the woman's hat is made of plastic bags for bag awareness concert On down the road, however, the story was a bit different.  We walked into a lovely little shop with amazing huge brilliant copper plates among the art.  An older woman invited us in with the dog of course, and I decided that a small version of one of those copper plates would be a perfect memento of our trip to Bisbee and would look great on our newly painted walls at home.  After buying the plate, I asked the owner how long she had been in Bisbee, if she liked it.  Her story was haunting.  She had bought the shop 8 years ago, with the idea that she could build the business, sell the shop, and return home to retire.  She was from the northwest and almost cried as she told me her story.  Her hair was very gray, she was at least my age, and she said she would leave today if she could.  She missed the rain, she missed the water, she missed the ocean, she was trapped in a dry mining town thanks to the crashing economy, and she felt she would never be able to leave.  We all have our heart home, and Bisbee wasn’t hers.  I loved Bisbee, but I would miss the trees, the rain, the water, the ocean as well.  My heart hurt for this woman.

Bisbee As we left town, we wound our way up the steep road to check out the Queen Mine RV Park, reviewed by Laurie here and just about the only place to stay in Bisbee in an RV.  I can see how much fun it would be to stay there for a bit of time, but I don’t think I want to do it in January when it can actually snow! 

By the time we reached Tombstone, it was too late in the afternoon to see all the famous staged gunfights, but the town was filled to bursting with bikers and tourists, especially the Shady Lady Saloon, which is THE place to go, I hear.  We didn’t try to step in there with the dog, but it looked like a pretty lively place.  I know some folks love this town, but for me it was a bit too touristy to really get into it that much.  Wyatt Earp was my childhood hero, and just last fall we visited Dodge City, so boardwalk sidewalks but asphalt street I thought I might like Tombstone, but just as in Dodge, most of the historic attractions are behind fences and are invisible unless you pay the fees and listen to the folks play cowboy.  I think I might rather listen to some of Al’s real cowboys than do the Disneyesque thing at Tombstone. I was glad to see it, and probably don’t need to see it again.

I have several albums on Picasa of the last few days, although I certainly can’t even begin to take photos like Al did of Bisbee.  Go check out his blog here if you want to really “See” Bisbee in a way that I could never do.  Otherwise, you can see my view by going to my Picasa site here.

Tomorrow we will visit another long time friend south of town, and she plans to take us to Tubac, another historic town, but this one is filled with art and food.  UhOh.  I might be in trouble again.


New Years Day in Quartzite AZ

We enjoyed Quartzite, although we were a couple of days too early for things to be really going yet and most of the shows were still closed. There were enough places open along the main drag that Mo could get the flea market crazy feel of the area a bit and we shopped for things like duct tape and a hammer to replace what we had left behind in the Baby MoHo. We camped out beyond the BLM Long Term Camping Area which was about 6 miles south of town. The Long Term Area was about 1/3 full of RV’s, many of them with tall flags blowing in the strong wind so that their owners could find them out there. It’s all random and a lot of it looks the same so it’s easy to lose your rig.

The LTCA areas require a permit for 14 days consecutive or for a season, and charge a very small fee. In that area there are trash and outhouses and minimal water available at La Posa, but the regulations say come prepared to dry camp with plenty of water and gas for your generator and empty waste tanks. It’s an interesting place and many people go there to escape the winter cold and camp for almost nothing in the desert.

When we were there, it was fairly chilly and windy, enough so that we didn’t want to take advantage of the fire ring and the ability to have a fire. We haven’t had one on this whole trip. But this really was the trip of exploration, not a trip to camp and relax around the fires. Just talking about how we really didn’t even have much chance to sit around outside at all because it was either too cold or too dark by the time we would settle in for the night, or the few times we were in a place for more than one night, we were busy doing things that we wanted to do in the area. I do imagine it to be a bit different when I am actually retired and on a bit off a less tight schedule. Staying for a week somewhere might give us time for the delights of sitting around in the evening with a fire and our little lights that look so cheery. At least we got to put them out in Florida, and they delighted both of us. No flamingos, however, just refined little lamps and some chili ristras. LOL

At the La Posa area south of Quartzite, there were circles of motorhomes that looked like the old wagon train thing, and they had big fires, maybe a dozen rigs camped together out there for reunions or celebrations. Looked as though it could be fun sometime, but I wouldn’t want to travel that way for any length of time.

We slept well there, and the rv performed just fine with the slideout working well, the levelers doing great on the uneven rocky ground, and the generator giving us enough power to use the microwave and charge up the computer and catch up on email. We didn’t bother with the tv or trying to get a signal there at all.

Tuesday Jan 1 New Years Day

Traveling west on I-10, the pavement here is smooth and dark, and great for writing. We left the campground this morning just before 9am and had some fun conversation about the old days when I used to do the show circuit selling flowers. Talking about the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the biggest in the world with Wes and Gayle last night was interesting. They were traveling in Holland last summer and Gayle wanted a very special gemstone ring that would commemorate her visit there, and found out after buying it that the owner of the little shop in Holland had purchased it at the Tucson show. Funny. Told Mo the story of the people at the quartzite show so many years ago when I was selling flowers there who were selling rv vents for 10 bucks each and making way more money than I was with all my fancy stuff. We laughed about “plastic sunglasses” and how easy it seems to have some little inexpensive thing to sell while you are traveling, but of course it never is as easy as it looks. Then we talked about having a little tent and I could do tarot readings. Once long ago I thought that might be fun, but I would definitely have to get my mind and soul back into a different place than I have been of late.

Coming up to the interchange between I-10 and I-8 shortly and in the west it looks as though there is a lot of dust. It was windy this morning as the sun rose, windy in that desert coyote way that I love, but a bit worrying for driving the rig, but so far it hasn’t been a problem. I do remember that often around Quartzite this time of year they have wind advisories and make the big rigs get off the roads. So this is the Phoenix bypass route we are taking and the wind and dust now are getting fairly serious. Who knows why rv’rs go to Quartzite, it’s big and flat and full of people, and it’s hard to imagine what draws so many there. It’s just a “thing” I guess, and everyone with an rv needs to see it at least once, so off we go.