Saturday, 8 March 2014

Still in Arizona

From Picacho Peak, we drove through the Gates Pass
Gates Pass
to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. This is not a traditional museum. It is a museum, botanical garden, art gallery, aquarium, zoo, and natural history museum all in one. Much of it is outside, where you can wander over 21 acres along the two miles of paths. The first thing we did was to take a tour to orient ourselves, and get a general idea of the layout.  We had a wonderful, knowledgeable guide, who interspersed extra bits of information about the area with personal stories and information about the geology, different types of cacti 

Teddy bear Cholla [choya]

Stalk comin up from the Yucca Cactus

Brittle Bush

Organ Pipe Cacti

Prickly Pear Cacti and Saguaro Cacti
and their characteristics, and why so many flowers here are yellow- Brittle Bush, Creosote Bush, Desert Marigolds are flowering now. [Bees are responsible for much of the pollination and bees are attracted by yellow.] Since it was a hot sunny day, at one point she sprayed a creosote bush and asked us to smell it. She told us this is what the desert smalls like in the rain. It was a fresh, slightly resin-like pungent smell. Then, we had a chance to hear a presentation to learn more about Gila Monsters and the Diamondback Rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes do not always rattle just before they strike, and they can strike a distance equal to their body length. We grabbed a quick lunch and then we ran down the paths to a desert corner of the outdoor park to see the Raptor Free Flight Presentation. Several rangers worked with a trainer to show flights and behaviours of Harris Hawks.

Flying in from the Plain

The beautiful birds were brought in from the desert plain, and moved from tree to tree, low and close enough for everyone to get a good look at them. They flew so close over the crowd one brushed John’s hat.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the Exhibit areas on our own. The Hummingbird Aviary is a beautiful, natural garden. Hummingbirds fly all over, one even sitting on her tiny nest, right by the path.
Hummingbird sitting on her nest
On the way back we decided to check out the Gilbert Ray Regional Campground. It is in the valley, right in the middle of the desert. Sites are varying sizes, some too small and difficult for us to get into, but there are some nice ones which would be large enough. There are sites with 30 amp hook ups, both back in and pull-through sites, washrooms, but no showers. There is a buffer zone of natural desert between sites. We discovered the Wandering Watsons in their Airstream, and had a good visit. The desert here is beautiful, lush and green, almost like a garden.
looking at Tuscon Mts, across from Gilbert Ray Campground
Lndscaping in the desert- a house style and colour often seen
We spent some time in Tucson. The Visitor Information store is in a unique and colourful block of condos, offices and restaurants around a courtyard.
Offices and Condos around a centre courtyard
In the El Presidio Historic District, we discovered Old Town Artisans, There are 5 distinctive shops in a 150 year-old adobe building built around a Spanish-style courtyard, with a Cantina and a patio restaurant. As you walk through, you can see original ceilings made of saguaro cactus ribs, packing crates and whiskey barrel staves. The shops all open into each other, so you can wander inside from shop to shop. The crafts are beautiful, from art of local artists, glass, metal works, pottery and carvings to unique jewellery, some from cut and polished rocks and minerals, and Southwest Native American merchandise. I had to be reminded that we are in an RV, so I could not buy anything so I bought a card by a local artist.

We visited the Old Tucson [Studios]. Since 1939, Old Tucson has been the setting for more than 300 movies including Rio Bravo, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Tombstone, and TV productions such as Bonanza, and Little House on the Prairie. It is set up as a Western Town.
There is even a Stagecoach

Old Homestead

The Reno

The waterwheel

There are fabulous sets like the Iron Door Haunted Mine,

Both Mines

the Grand Palace Saloon, A Sheriff’s Office

and a Mission.

The Mission (only a facade)
There are different performances scheduled throughout the day. We saw a Hollywood Stunt Demonstration at the Mission, showing us how many of the Hollywood stunts in Westerns were performed,
The end of the gunfight-
a Musical History of the Silver Screen with some of the greatest songs featured in movies shot at Old Tucson. We rode around the perimeter on a little train.
Train coming around the corner
It was interesting to see some of the desert areas set up as a desert camp, and to see the backs of some buildings and realize many of the buildings in the town were only facades. There is even a beautiful old carousel.
The Old Carousel
Our last attraction in Tucson was to Pima Air and Space Museum,
The Museum Entrance
which houses over 250 planes. This is different from some of the other museums we have seen, as none of the planes are in flying condition. We took a tram tour of the planes which were outside.
Russian Hind

Lockheed Consellation- Dwight Eisenhower's plane, during the 50's, as Military Commander
Our driver gave us an interesting commentary, with background and interesting details. We saw a SR-71 Blackbird in the first hangar, a B-36 Convair Peacemaker- which is the largest US bomber ever built-

B-36 Convair Peacemaker

B-36 Convair Peacemaker

and The United States of America DC-6, which was only called Air Force 1 only when The President was on board.

There are also several hangers with WWII aircraft.

On our last day at Picacho Peak, John went to hike to the Peak up the back side of the mountain.
The back of Picacho Peak

vegetation patterns in the desert from Picacho Peak
I got a text from him about 2 hours into his hike, the soles of his hiking boots were coming off. He tried to continue, but they got worse, so he decided to abort. He arrived home carrying one sole! 

Our time was up and we headed north to Lake Pleasant just NW of Phoenix. The sides of the roads were lined with beautiful clumps of yellow Brittle Bushes,
Yellow lined the highway

but not the hillsides or mountains or deserts valleys. There was really lush green desert along the l-17. Lake Pleasant was a lovely desert landscape. We could see the lake
See that bit of blue!!
The lake from just down the road

and the valley from our site. Sites were level and well spaced. 

Run-Around-Sue from across the road

Washrooms could use some work and some soap. Our first day`s task was to get John some new hiking boots. We headed to REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) – similar store to our MEC. It was on the east side of Phoenix, off the 101 loop. We got very used to finding our way around on the freeways of Phoenix. We spent a couple of afternoons at Barnes and Noble using the wifi, and enjoying Starbucks lattes.
We went to Mesa to visit Airstream friends who are staying at the Mesa Royal. It was a great afternoon catching up and getting hints on travel to Newfoundland. This is a trip we want to take too. 
Since the MLB`s Cactus League of Spring Training is played in stadiums in Greater Phoenix, we took the opportunity to see a game. On a sunny, warm day, before the rains came, we watched the Padres and The Mariners at Peoria Sportsfield. It is a beautiful stadium, grassy field and a grassy slope outside the fences in right and left field.

The grassy slopes are in the middle
For $8, you can bring a blanket and watch the game from these slopes. We sat four rows up behind the Padres dugout, right on the first base line. Fabulous seats, except for the tall gentleman in front of me, cost $26.  There isn`t really a bad seat in the park. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Another item crossed off our bucket list!
Big Brown got an oil change and the tires rotated, at the Chrysler dealer in AutoNation in North Phoenix. They were terrific. Thus far we have traveled over 27,000 km, and towed over 10,500 km. 
We had a big storm come through, with heavy rain one night and all the next day and night. I had heard so often, you have to see the desert after a rain, it just blooms. So I was expecting a mass of colours as we drove around and north to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Unfortunately, I didn`t get to see this amazing phenomenon. The desert was greener, but not blooming any more than it had been.
Greener, but not flowering...

We love the desert landscape. It is always changing, and colours are amazing. Who knew there could be so many shades of greens and so many colours in sand and rocks.
Lake Pleasant- look at the colours in the hills!

Lake Pleasant-colours in the desert include blue!
Deserts are not always flat. There are interesting shapes of rock outcrops and mountains, huge valleys and high mountains.
Still desert, but NOT flat!
We are also experiencing the results of the dryness and low humidity. My skin is very dry. I am putting oil on my cuticles, and cream on hands many times per day. During the driest periods, John was getting frequent, but short nosebleeds. At home, this was always our signal to put the humidifier on. Unfortunately, we don`t have a humidifier here! 

We are off to Sedona next, up at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Look for really vibrant colour in these pictures! 

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