02-07 to 02-11-2018 Tucson

Tucson.  Even the name has a bit of a romantic ring to it. I will always associate it in my mind with one of my favorite books by Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal Dreams”.  I imagine the heat before the monsoons come because of the way she described it, not because I have actually lived it.  I imagine coyotes in the washes and the wet dust smell when the rains hit the dirt and flood the washes.  Barbara Kingsolver left Tucson behind for a more sustainable life in Appalachia, her original homeland, but I will always think of her as a product of the Southwest, just because that book and “Pigs in Heaven” were the first books I read that she wrote.

Tucson from the viewpoint on the Catalina Highway to Mt Lemmon

Our friends love living in Tucson, or maybe love-hate I should say.  They say the summer heat is almost unbearable, and for a moment they thought about relocating to the Hill Country of Texas, but it was hot there as well, and humid, and a LOT more expensive.  Still, the early mornings even in summer are beautiful and the evenings give them the opportunity to enjoy their shaded porches.They love the monsoons, and would always drive back to Tucson from Rocky Point in time for the big rains with amazing skies.  Their beautiful desert style home in the suburb of Sauharita looks toward Madera Canyon and there is a wash in their back yard that is home to many critters, although Wes said that there are fewer humans creeping through the wash than they saw a few years ago.

Their gardens are walled and manicured, planted for 15 years now with desert plants, cactus, and mulched with rock and gravel.  Wes is meticulous and his gardens are beautiful.  On our first day visiting with the two of them, we sat outside in the sunshine at the umbrella shaded patio table and had another one of Gayle’s glorious meals.  Gayle can take anything, even simple store bought pulled pork, and make it seem as though you are dining in a fine restaurant.  Lovely dishes, beautiful presentation, little condiments to accompany the meal.  I try to emulate Gayle quite often when I make dinner for someone.

Mo’s long time friend Joan, who once lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco when Mo lived in Monterra, has relocated to Tucson in her retirement as well.  She and her husband settled in to Green Valley, in an area insulated from so much, including any residents under 55.  It is a beautifully manicured community, and now that Joan is without Joe, she says it is a perfect place for her to be in her 80’s.  She loves the heat, loves her desert garden, her life and her community.

We travel to Tucson to be with these friends, not so much to visit Tucson.  There are some amazing things to see and do near and around the city, though, and each time we go it seems we find something new to enjoy.

After lunch at Wes and Gayle’s, the four of us thought, “Why don’t we go to Tubac?”.  We had been there in the past with Joan, but there was an art show going on, and I had a bit of an ulterior motive.  Mo and I were still cruising for some outdoor art pieces for the house back home, and Tubac is a plethora of all kinds of art, indoor and especially outdoor art with that colorful southwest bent. 

It was a warm afternoon, and even though the crowds were big, Wes found a place to park and we slipped into the paths and walkways meandering around the galleries and restaurants of Tubac. The area has been populated by humans for millenia, first by the mammoth hunters, then the Hohokam, followed by Pima and native O’odham, who greeted the Spanish when they arrived in the early 1700’s.  The Jesuits built missions there, and there is an historic presidio in addition to the Tumacacari Mission ruins which we visited later in the afternoon.

The galleries were wonderful, and with the addition of all the art booths for the juried show, we had lots of eye candy to peruse.  I looked long and hard at several pieces for the house, but it was Mo who spotted the very best one on an upper exterior wall of Michele’s Gallery.  We bought the sun sculpture, and Wes dutifully carried it back to the car for us.  We also found a colorful metal sculpture of sunflowers, toned down a bit from the bright southwest colors, but still pretty for our home back in Grants Pass.  Wes also carried that one back to the car for us as well.

We took Mattie on a leash with her halter, and it was a bit challenging to say the least.  So many little dogs!  And of course she wanted to play with them all.  Some of them she thought deserved a bark and she was really a pain in the neck.  Mo spent a lot of time holding her in and scolding her.  I think our big mistake was letting her play unfettered with the big old red bloodhound that lived near the apartments in Klamath Falls.  He was her best buddy and would let her jump and climb on him, and drag him around by the lip.  She didn’t have to learn manners playing with Red.  Now she needs some manners and it takes constant attention.

Wes drove south just a mile or so to the Tumacacari National Park, where the ruins of the Tumacacari Mission are protected.  We entered with our geezer’s passes, and Wes offered to stay outside the walls with Mattie so that Mo and I could both go in the park, where dogs are NOT allowed.

The history was fascinating, the stories were interesting, and the museum was very well done.  I loved the light and color of the old mission ruins, especially the grain storage jars lined up in the rounded impressions in the old adobe.  Recreating what the past must have looked like is an interesting pursuit, and I appreciate that curators do that for us.

That evening we returned to Wes and Gayle’s home for another meal, this time a fabulous dinner that was again one of Gayle’s masterpieces of flavor, color, and presentation, in beautiful dinnerware, with good wine, and yummy dessert, in their lovely dining room.  Did I mention that it is always a treat to enjoy Gayle’s meals? We didn’t get back to our site at the base until very very late that evening.

The next morning, we had arranged for them to meet us outside the gates of the base to drive up the Mt Lemmon Road.  There were choices, including hiking Sabina Canyon, something that is on our list and will remain on our list.  Madera Canyon is another place to hike, but we only had time for so much, and with the beautiful, clear weather, Mt Lemmon was our first choice.

The road to the summit and the ski resort there is called the Catalina Highway.  As we wound up that curving, and sometimes steep road, we were amazed at what it must have taken to build it.  It was built around the same era ad the CCC roads we have so admired, but didn’t have quite the same characteristics of those roads, so we knew it had to be some other builder.  I found this information on the internet:

Construction on the Catalina Highway began in 1933, owing in large part to the efforts of Frank Harris Hitchcock, former Postmaster General of the United States. As a part of the effort, a federal prison camp was established at the foot of the mountains specifically to supply labor for the construction of the highway. During World War II, the camp was converted into an internment camp named the Catalina Honor Camp, and the internees were forced to work on construction of the roadway. One of the Japanese American prisoners at the camp, Gordon Hirabayashi, was later honored in 1999 when the site of the Honor Camp was converted into the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area.

The highway would not be completed until 1950, 17 years after it began. Upon its completion, the highway was named after Hitchcock, who had died in 1935.

The original paved road was narrow, in places had little or no shoulder, featured vertical drop-offs near the road, and was bumpy along most of its length due to years of patchwork repairs. It was long regarded as “one of the most dangerous roads in Pima County.” In 1988, the Federal Lands Highway program began a series of seven projects aimed at significantly improving the roadway, with the assistance of the US Forest Service and Pima County. The projects were aimed at improving the quality of the roadway and increasing safety for travelers, while minimizing the impact on the visual aspects and natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. The final project was completed in 2007, at a cost of $15 million, and the road is now much wider and features adequate shoulders, passing areas, and extensive guard rails.”

The road is still winding and narrow, but there are several campgrounds and trailheads along the route that we explored a bit.  Most of the trailheads are much like other hiking trails in the Catalina Mountains, very steep and very rocky, at least the parts that we could see without actually hiking them.

My favorite part was the magnificent view from the overlook area with stone walls, and pathways, old rock restrooms that were a bit like the CCC buildings, and open well worn trails that led to the best viewpoints.  It was thrilling to look out over the canyons and mountains from the weathered granite boulders that formed this famous “sky island” in the desert.  The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend are another example of this typical southwest landscape of mountains rising above the desert surrounding them and supporting a completely different array of plants and animals than are found at lower elevations.

After our day of touring, we settled on dinner for the four of us at the Texas Roadhouse on Broadway, not far from the base.  The food was good, but oh my, the noise!  It made it very hard to relax and enjoy our meal, much less have any kind of conversation.  I don’t for the life of me understand this trend for big noisy restaurants.  Gayle and I decided it makes you eat faster and talk less because you get all wound up inside and a bit frantic. 

We spent Saturday visiting with Joan before returning to the base to dump tanks, take on water, checking everything in the MoHo, and taking long showers. We wanted to be sure we were ready for our Sunday morning exit north from Tucson.

02-06-2018 Heading for Tucson via Ogilby Road

Sometimes on our southern sojourns there isn’t enough time.  On this trip, however, we made sure to get all the way south to Tucson.  We missed our friends and neighbors, Wes and Gayle, who used to live in Rocky Point at least part of the year, and are now located full time in their beautiful desert home in Sauharita, south of Tucson. We have visited them a few times, but it has been a couple of years and we looked forward to sharing some hikes and good food with them.

Imperial Dunes from Highway 78

But first, we had to pick a travel route.  That was easy.  One of our favorite boondock sites in the southern desert is the wide open BLM area near Ogilby Road, just west of Yuma.  Lots of fellow bloggers have landed in these open spaces at one time or another, but I think the first time I heard about Ogilby Road was from Nina, at Wheelin’ It, who wrote some very lovely poetic lines about the place and took intriguing photos that sucked me in.

Our first time here in 2014, we came in from the south, but after George and Patsy talked about a back route between El Centro and Ogilby Road, we decided to give it a try. With our 26 foot rig the road was a lovely ride, driving past the Imperial Sand Dunes.  The dunes were quiet on this Tuesday, but the tracks on the sand showed just how busy they must be much of the time with 4 Wheeler’s running about.

Google Maps tried to insist that we take a short cut to Ogilby Road, and we said, no way, it was a bumpy dirt road and we could see that the real Ogilby Road wasn’t too far east from where we were.  I told the google girl to stop talking and we found our own way in from the north.

We found a great wide open spot, not far from the hills toward the northern end of the main boondocking area and settled in quickly.  We set the chairs out in the cool shade and read, took the dog for some walks, and simply enjoyed the incredible silence of the desert as sunset approached.

I could stay out here for a lot longer than a single night, but it really was just a pass-through for us this time, and a pleasant one.  Only problem for me is that when we are boondocked in the desert like this, I have to get up repeatedly during the night to check out the stars, the darkness, and the silence.  Incredible.

The next morning we took our time with a good breakfast, a nice walk, and an easy pack up, since we hadn’t unhooked the Tracker, and didn’t even need to drop our jacks on the level desert floor.  We simply pulled in the slide and drove off.

The eastern route toward Tucson is fairly straightforward along Interstate 8 until it intercepts I-10, but that also seemed a bit boring.  Instead, at Gila Bend, we turned south toward Ajo, a place we have heard about often but we haven’t been there in the MoHo.  Many years ago, Mo traveled to the Copper Canyon train, and their tour came back through the US near Organ Pipe Monument, and Ajo.

We were heading for Organ Pipe, but were so enchanted with the little town of Ajo that we spent all our free time there and had to skip the side trip to see the monument.  Next time, I hope.  I still love seeing photos of this place.

We have friends who have a house in Ajo, but they are currently in Rocky Point.  Judy once had a house in Ajo, and we always wondered why in the world anyone would live there.  After visiting, we now understand.  It is a quirky, artsy place, with cute little funky stucco houses that sell for $69,000 or so.  There are some galleries, a few stores, a great museum, and some gorgeous churches and buildings. 

We loved the artist alley with murals lining both sides of the street. We both said having a little house in Ajo would be a fun way to spend winter time in the desert.  But no, we have the MoHo, and we don’t need another little house anywhere!

Continuing east toward Why, we passed Darby Wells Road, another well documented site for boondockers.  Would love to explore that one someday as well, but our friends were waiting and we needed to get on to Tucson.  We also passed the road leading south toward the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, where RV Sue and her crew were camped for a couple of weeks.  Those mountains along the western edge of the refuge looked really inviting.

We passed Kitt Peak, where google was kind enough to answer my questions regarding the huge observatory at the summit.  I guess the next time we go to Tucson it might be fun to take a trip up there to see the huge solar telescopes.

Family Camp at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Tucson

All our extra sightseeing delayed our arrival time at Davis-Monthan AFB to just after 4:30 PM, (we lost an hour to the time zone change).  We were delighted to see that the office was still open, but not so delighted to discover that the Family Camp was completely full except for the overflow area.  Overflow sites are $11.00 per night, and are the only way to eventually get into the full hookup portion of the camp, since there are no reservations.  The office people told us it was a 6 to 10 day wait for a site.  Hmmm.  At first we thought about just paying for 1 night and looking for a park somewhere, but were discouraged by the information that almost all the parks in the Tucson area were full, thanks to the famous Tucson Gem Show that was in full swing.

What the heck, we decided that dry camping for the four days we expected to stay in Tucson would be a piece of cake.  We had full access to all the amenities. 

The laundry room with the cheapest and best machines on the road was just a hop from our rig, the bathrooms as well, with their nice big showers and hot water.  There was an easy dump site with air for tires, and potable water where we could take care of the necessities with a simple drive around the block. There is free coffee and cappuccino in the camp office, HD TV and full computer hookups with direct access.  Does anyone carry cords for direct card access any more? 

We had terrible Verizon service, however, and that was a big surprise.  Verizon was fine elsewhere in the area, but at the base and nearby it was 1 sketchy bar.  We haven’t popped for any kind of boosters since we aren’t on the road all the time and have managed to do without, but it did get a bit frustrating while we were there.

We do love the family camp at Davis-Monthan.  It is clean and well maintained, and the base is big and has a great commissary.  Mui would love it, Erin.  Smile There is a golf course, a movie theater, good gasoline prices at the on base station, a fitness facility and a pool.  We never have any time to really partake of all the stuff, but we did enjoy the dog park for Mattie, right outside our door.

In fact, we decided that dry camping at DM AFB is pretty darn nice, with the sites being spacious and much more roomy than the somewhat close sites in the main park area.  I think next time we come to Tucson, we will simply plan on dry camping and enjoy the openness and not bother paying the $22.00 per day for full hookups.

We knew the next few days were going to be filled with fun and friends, so enjoyed a bit of down time.  The generator only ran for a couple of hours so that I could process photos.  I did manage to keep photos processed on this trip, but didn’t even think about trying to upload them to SmugMug until we were safely back in Oregon with our full cable unlimited WiFi.  It certainly helped when I got back home to only have to do the writing without having to do all that photo processing as well. 

We spent the next few days with our friends, enjoying the dog park and walking with Mattie, and being treated to some of those fabulous Arizona sunsets. 

We even had an evening visit from a wandering javalina, who seemed to know exactly where he was going.

Does this qualify as a “the end” photo?

Am I on a trip or am I just living life

Agave Gulch Military Family Camp Davis Monthan AFB Tucson AZ High today 67 F currently 48 degrees F and clear

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaI had a moment this morning, while walking to the laundry, that felt like I wasn’t traveling at all, that I was just living “life”.  I wasn’t on a big trip, I was just doing laundry.  How do you explain moments like that? Of course I am on a “trip”, and yet it feels a bit like full timers feel when they say traveling around the country in a motorhome isn’t a vacation, it is just life.

We landed at Davis-Monthan AFB Agave Gulch Campground yesterday afternoon, early enough that the campground office was still open, and early enough to get settled in before the “big” game between the Packers and the 49rs.  Having lived in the Bay Area for so long, Mo is a 49rs fan.  We weren’t able to get local tv with the antenna, but managed to get a pretty good description of the game on the radio as we settled in for a couple of days here in Tucson.  It was a good day all around, Mo’s team won.

saguaros are like icebergs, you just keep wanting to take photos of themIt was also a good day in that there were plenty of sites to choose from here at the FamCamp, and we got a nice one on the outside loop with no one next to us.  This is definitely a great place to stay in Tucson for just $20 bucks per night for full hookups, minus TV of course.  Hence a game on the radio.  Mo bought a satellite for the MoHo recently but it didn’t arrive before we left on this trip.  Oh wait…we aren’t on a trip….we are just living.  Well, we are living without much TV and I find that extremely relaxing.  It is good to get out of the news cycle now and then.  Of course, I do have the internet and the computer for the really important stuff. Like banking.  What in the world did we do when travelers didn’t have access to online banking? 

I had planned to do laundry here because I remembered the nice clean laundry facility with plenty of machines and only 1.00 to wash and 1.00 to dry.  It is a good place to get the rugs and blankets all spiffed up and fresh again and I took advantage of that yesterday afternoon. 

Today we woke to a free day with wide open possibilities.  Local friends in the Tucson area all seemed to be gallivanting off somewhere else, so there were no visits planned.  Instead we decided to explore a different part of Tucson than we saw when we passed through here in 2007 and again in 2011.

setting out on the Canyon Loop trail at Catalina SPMost of the time we have traveled from the air force base toward the south, with one visit to the downtown area.  This time we traveled north to visit the popular Catalina State Park, at the base of the beautiful Catalina Mountains just north and a bit east of town.  As we drove up Swan Road toward Oracle Road the shift in lifestyles and neighborhoods was dramatic.  The flatter areas were lower middle class homes, tight little neighborhoods with lots of cars parked around and small shops and groceries.  With just a little bit of elevation, the houses got bigger, and as we climbed the hills toward the mountains, the houses and shops increased in value with every foot uphill.

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaBefore long we were in nosebleed territory with Whole Foods anchoring some pretty fancy malls and some houses that looked as big as hotels.  Of course there were also hotels and spas behind huge gates, all with gorgeous views of the city below and the Catalina Mountains behind.  It was beautiful, and especially in January I could imagine living here.  In some other very wealthy life, I am sure.

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and she lived in Tucson when I first started reading her books. She and her husband and family picked up lock stock and barrel and relocated to her ancestral home in the Appalachian Mountains.  She said she wanted to live a more sustainable life, where there was water and soil and you could grow your own food.  Tucson is lovely in many ways, but would be pure hell without air conditioning.

Montrose Pools on the Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaStill, as we meandered into Catalina State Park, the Arizona sun worked its magic on us entirely.  The day was clear and nicely warm with a cooling breeze.  The skies were so blue they almost hurt.  Many bloggers have extolled the virtues of Catalina State Park, and it almost seemed like too much hoopla to me, so I was never that anxious to get there.  I was so wrong.

What a gorgeous place to be in January.  We checked out the campground loops and decided that yes, we could definitely spend a week or more here hiking these beautiful mountains.  Funny, because the last time we were in Tucson we thought we never needed to come back unless we were passing through as we did this time.  After our day in Catalina SP, I can see us coming back again for some January sunshine and blue skies.

happy dogThe main reason we decided to visit this park was to enjoy the dog friendly trails.  So often park trails are closed to dogs and it was great to find some areas that let us bring Abby along.  She especially loved the cool water in the creek that meandered though the canyon floor.  We did too, and took our time hiking three miles or so and stopping for photos and just sitting by the bubbling stream. What a perfect day!

We had planned a couple of other activities for the day, but by the time we left the park the afternoon traffic was getting thicker and we decided to skip the tour of the downtown art colony and instead go back home to our waiting supper.  I recently found a nice little crockpot and decided it was time to make a stew, so it had been cooking all day while we were gone.  Nice to come home to dinner all ready to go after a long day.

three favorite kitchen items for the MoHoJeremy wasn’t too happy for us to be gone that long, and did some old cat things that made me not so happy as well.  sigh.  I am glad he is with us….most of the time.  Sometimes not so much. I am doing more laundry tonight, catching up on photos and blogs while I wait for the last batch to finish. 

Tomorrow we will continue east toward Las Cruces.  An easy day of Interstate 10 driving and an early arrival at a Passport America park within walking distance to Old Mesilla and some Mexican food!