Friday, 20 March 2015

Arizona Part II

A short drive up to Casa Grande brought us to Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort.
Entering the gates, 24 hour security
This is indeed a first class resort! From registering inside in a hotel-like lobby, to the volunteer who led us to, and helped us back into to our huge premium site, we were greeted with welcoming friendliness. Our site was double-wide, so we could park our truck beside the trailer, and still have lots of room. We were on gravel with a cement patio pad.
The truck or 2 goes in that big empty section.
There are a couple of thousand sites laid out in streets of about 14 per side,
Our Street
along the golf course fairways and along the main streets. Most of the sites have park models on them, but there are several sites on each street for RV’s, either long or short-term. Streets are wide and lots are quite large. There is every imaginable activity available from silver smith to sewing, quilting, pottery, stained glass,
The activity rooms open into an inside corridor or to the outside walkway

aquafit, lawn bowling, bingo and cards of all kinds. In the main building
The main entrance to the offices and library
there is a large library where there is wi-fi access and shared computers, and six billiards tables, and a ballroom. There are two laundries, two pools, a hot tub
The Hot Tub by the main pool
and a bistro,
The outdoor patio of the Bistro
a regulation baseball diamond, and pickle ball courts. There is even a fenced-in dog playground with the types of ladders, hoops and tunnels the “Super Dogs” use. Everyone was really friendly and helpful.  The first day, wandering around, I found a binder organized by State and Province, where guests signed in. When I checked the Ontario page, I discovered that a friend I had taught with and a fellow principal were here too. It turned out we could see the park model that they were renting from our Airstream. We spent some time catching up and went out one evening for dinner.

This was a low-key week for us. We went to LA Fitness, shopped and drove around the town and outside area, but didn’t go far. We had friends from Mesa come to visit one day for lunch out by the pool. 
The main pool and courtyard
Another day we drove out of the city to see the hotel and golf course, the Francisco Grande, that once was the home of the San Francisco Giants spring training centre. Instead of a baseball diamond, now there are many soccer fields as it is the Casa Grande Sports Complex. The hotel, golf course and Convention Centre
Francisco Grande hotel and Convention Centre in front
are separate. Unfortunately, John developed a miserable cough, then cold. Of course, not to be left out, I had to get it too, although not nearly as bad. I just coughed and felt miserable.

On leaving Palm Creek, we headed to I-8 towards our next destination, Organ Pipe National Monument.  On the road again, the country changed from desert to green
irrigated fields,
Beautiful green fields

and back to desert.

Some of the mountains close to the road were covered in huge boulders.

Then we turned south at Gila Bend towards Mexico. This is a section of beautiful Sonora Desert, with “sky-islands”.

Sky Islands
Much of the road runs through the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. Then the town of Ajo [Ah-o],

Spanish influence in downtown buildings
a former copper mining hub, with its white cliffs and huge tailings piles.

Tailings from the mine
Just before entering Organ Pipe National Monument, you pass through the small town of Why, now home to a large Border Patrol centre.  Given the long border with Mexico, this area has been a major route for drug smuggling and illegal immigration.  Highway 85 south of I-8 to Organ Pipe National Monument now has two Border Patrol stations including one at Why where north bound traffic is stopped and checked.  From Why it’s 22 miles through untouched Sonoran desert

Sonora Desert
to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center
The beautiful Visitor Centre
and a further four miles to the Twin Peaks campground.

A map of the Organ Pipe National Monument

Driving to the campground
Kris Eggle was a Park Ranger killed in the line of duty chasing a drug cartel hit squad which had escaped into the US. Many of the Park trails were closed for 12 years due to security concerns.

The park’s website notes the Twin Peaks campground has no services suggesting this is primitive camping.  Sorry, no way.  This may be one of the nicest campgrounds we have seen.  There are 174 RV sites plus about 30 sites reserved for tents laid out in the shape of a beehive. The RV sites are divided into generator and non-generator sites, each a pull through with a level poured concrete pad and adjoining patio.  Each row has two restrooms, one with a solar shower. Our site was about 75 ft. long. 
Looking south to the tent sites and Mexico from our site
The campground has two each of water fill stations and dump stations, and potable water taps on each row, but no Wi-Fi or cell service (unless you roam through Mexico six miles away).  It does however have one of the "most interesting" radio stations we’ve listened to, from the nearby Tohono O’dham reservation. Every night we could listen to Fred and his eclectic selection of country music but this paled compared to another program featuring several hours of Reggae or another with Mexican accordion polka tunes and the longest rendition of “Happy Birthday” we’ve ever heard.

Ajo Mountain Range
The park is cut out of the desert and named for the organ pipe cactus
Organ Pipe and Saguaro Cacti
This is the furthest north that the organ pipe can grow and the only place they are naturally found in the U.S. as they are very sensitive to cold. The park is perfect example of untouched Sonoran desert There are cacti (saguaros, chollas, prickly pears, organ pipe, barrel) and ocotillos everywhere.

One evening we walked the Desert View Trail. It was a beautiful walk up and across the side of the Twin Peaks mountain, looking down on the campground
Walking up from the group lot

Looking down on the campsites

South to Mexico

The climb to the top

A teddy bear cholla
on one side and into Mexico on the other.

Another day, we took the drive around the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive Loop. It is beautiful, a narrow dirt road winding across the Diablo Mountains to the base of the Ajo Range, by Arch Canyon
The arches

Formation of arches, and their collapse

This is what John is looking at- see the road?
and Bull Pasture,
Bull Pasture
and returns through the Sonoyta Valley, with spectacular views. Here we saw largest Organ Pipe cactus in the Park.

This gives you a sense of its size!
It has a beautiful cristate, an anomaly, in the centre.

a Cristate in the centre of the Organ Pipe Cactus
Near the end of the Loop, John slammed on the brakes. In front of us, was a bull snake, slowly inching its way across the road.
The only snake we have seen in 1 1/2 years
We drove the north part of the Puerto Blanco Drive to view the Puerto Blanco Mountains and Sonoyta Mountains to the west, from a different viewpoint. There are picnic tables at several look-out points.
Twin Peaks
We did not drive the centre one-way section of the Drive though, as it is very rugged and is recommended for high clearance vehicles only.

We drove down to Lukeville on the border
The Border crossing
with Mexico, and drove part of the South Puerto Blanco Drive. It parallels the border for a while, with the Normandy barriers,
Normandy Barriers, created from the rails used to bring in raw materials in the construction of the Hoover Dam
Pedestrian Barrier along the border
and in sight of the pedestrian barrier, which is supposed to be unscaleable. However, we listened to a talk by a Border Guard who said that these can be scaled  as if they were a couple of feet high. It was interesting to hear him talk about the various aspects of his job. We were warned not to pick up strangers especially those using black water bottles. It turns out that illegals from Mexico use these because they don’t reflect the light. There are warning signs all over the Organ Pipe National Monument.
One of the many signs

One day we drove into Why to get gas and use wifi. I couldn’t get my iPad to connect, So, I opened my computer, to discover, that it wouldn’t start. I was rather upset, as this is my new computer!  I tried all the suggestions and fixes. Nothing worked. So this meant that I had to wait until we were in Santee, California. This was really hard for me, a week with no computer!

We left this little paradise and headed to Yuma for the night
Across the bridge going back into Yuma
A mission across from the Casino
at the Paradise Casino. Again, the parking lot was packed, with many of the RV’s unhitched, and obviously here for a while!

The next day we headed to Santee Lakes in California. The first part of the drive was through huge sand dunes.
Beautiful sand dunes
On some of them, there were lots of folks boondocking.
One of the boondockers (and a cyclist from a large group out for a morning ride)
Dirt bikes and Dune Buggies in the huge dunes
Some were riding the dunes on dirt bikes.

As we drove into El Centro in the Imperial Valley, with its bright green fields,
Imperial Valley
a dust storm blew up in front of us.
That is a dust storm...
This was the first of our bad weather experiences as we went through the mountains on I-8. There were a lot of windmills on the mountains as we went through the pass. The mountains looked like piles of rocks.
Dust storm gone, rain yet to come...
We passed through rain storms, and high winds.
and into the rain...

Luckily, as we drove over the mountain pass into California, the rain let up and we arrived at Santee Lakes in the sunshine.

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