We booked to stay a week at the Saguaro Co-Op RV Park in Benson, and explore the south east part of Arizona. We were given a large, graveled site with full hookups.
This was a bonus for us, because it was a site where we
could wash the trailer and truck. Most of the residents of the Park are
long-term or co-op members with a few sites designated for short-term visitors.
The owners of most sites have added a casita -a small extra room.
There are a
number of rules which govern the size of these, the most important being size
restrictions and not being able to have a bedroom; however, a Murphy or
Hide-a-bed of some kind is acceptable. The
Park is very well run, mainly by volunteers, landscaping is beautiful,
people are super-friendly. There is one large Recreation Hall in the centre
with a library, several multi-use rooms and a kitchen. There is a Happy Hour
every day at 4pm. Unfortunately, we were rarely back from our day’s adventures
that early. Our first evening we decided to have dinner at Mi Casa, a relatively new local Mexican restaurant. The food was
excellent. I had always avoided the green sauce, as it was usually too hot, but
this had just the right balance of cilantro and heat!
|A wide, long, level site|
|An architect-designed casita|
|A casita, landscaped with a model train around the property|
|Note the arch to the left- one man builds these in various sizes.|
Our first trip was to Kartchner Caverns. This land was owned by the Kartchner family when the cavern was discovered in 1974 by a couple of cave explorers and subsequently acquired by the state as a park.
This is a living cavern however, since we had been to Carlsbad Caverns last year, and it was relatively expensive [$23 US] to go underground, we decided to view the museum itself, and take a walk outside around the Hummingbird Garden,
the campground and along the stream.
The museum was interesting and well done, with a short video in the
theatre to start, then explanations of the discovery,
and explorations of the
caverns. The campground is above the main building, with sites clustered at the
foot of a mountain. Actually, the mountains in this area are often called “Sky
Islands”. Instead of a range of mountains, just one or two rise out of the
desert. This is the result of volcanic activity, then plate tectonic movement
stretching the areas between mountains,
|the stream on Foothill Loop Trail|
|From the museum...|
Another day, we went to Tombstone. Of course this is a must-see (for Sue anyway)! The Court House Museum was interesting.
It is a designated State Historic Park, explaining the founding of Tombstone, by a silver miner, and its growth as a frontier silver mining boomtown, history of cattleman, miners and pioneers.
Most of the stores on the main street are touristy,
and souvenirs and with lots of turquoise for sale. There are a few ‘good’ jewelry and Native art and pottery stores. Arlene’s is one of these. It has beautiful jewelry, pottery, and other interesting [and expensive] native art. We ate lunch in a small city park right beside the OK Corral.
To see the gunfight
though, you had to pay extra, and go inside the OK Corral Saloon, to a
“movie-set” back alley with a viewing stand – not our thing! Everything was
extra- to see the shoot-out, to go down the mine, to tour or ride in the stage
coaches… it could soon add up to be an expensive short visit.
|The 4 actors ready to go to their "Alley" for the fight, tourist rides available in the stagecoach|
We did find a wonderful little cafe, with excellent cappuccinos and lattes, as well as home baked cookies and muffins and gelato.
We moved on to travel south to Bisbee. This is a delightful little town, with a huge open-pit copper mine at one end of town.
It is the “Jerome” of south Arizona. The streets wind and climb steeply,
|One of the main streets|
with homes perched on the edge of the cliffs.
We were too late to do anything but wander in and out of several galleries and walk around the main area of town. Each year they have a stair-climb challenge.
|Using stairs around the town...|
There is a RV Camp at the top of one hill, overlooking the mine pit. Unlike Jerome, Bisbee seems to have prospered since the mine closed in the mid 1970’s leaving the town with many fine buildings.
One of our most interesting days was a trip to White Water Draw, east of Tombstone. This is an area of marshy wetlands,
|One area of marsh|
winter home to over 20,000 sand-hill cranes. Early in the morning they leave the marshes to head north to forage for corn in the fields. About 11am,
|When we arrived at 11am...|
they begin to return in groups. As you look to the north, you see thin black lines between the mountains. As they get closer, you realize they are groups of birds.
For the next hour we were mesmerized by the sight of large groups, some in “V’s”, some in lines,
some in groups of ten or thirty or more,
towards us, swooping in wide arcs, then landing in one of a several
sections of the edge of this muddy, marshy Draw. They stand in the shallow
water, safe from predators.
When we got there at 11am, there were about 20
birds in one group. By noon,
they were spread along 2 shores, clustered in
groups, standing, squawking. A fantastic, fascinating, fabulous spectacle….
then walking part of the Turquoise Trail around downtown Tucson.
The old Pima County Courthouse is a
magnificent building, and an interesting contrast to the new office buildings
in the area.
Of the millions of little
black seeds that are produced, those falling near a nurse tree, like the Palo
Verde and Mesquite,
have the best chance of survival.
These cacti grow best on
‘bajadas- the gently sloping outwash plains at the foot of desert mountains, and
do not tolerate cold well. Their roots may spread as wide as the cactus is
tall, but grow only three inches deep.
In the afternoon, we went to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and were just in time to see the raptor free flight demonstration.
We wandered around the Desert
Loop Trail, and the Desert Grassland section,
we had missed last year. We revisited the javelinas-“we are not pigs” –
and we had to revisit the Hummingbird Aviary and the Walk-In Aviary.
This is a wonderful facility-zoo, aquarium, garden, museum, and gallery all in
one, with of course the obligatory, fabulous gift shop.
The floor plan resembles a Latin cross. It is a
structure of arches and domes with wood only used in window and door frames- a
remarkable building made of lime, sand, clay and rock, with walls 33 inches
thick. Artists from Central Spain completed the inside.
|The sky was full|
|They swooped over us|
|And landed feet first...|
|The opposite shore|
|one section of the shore where we watched at 11|
On our way back, we stopped for lunch in Elfrida at “The Last Stop” Bakery and Café.
The owner was very friendly, and food wonderful- everything from the burger, the buns, and tortillas to the salsa was freshly made. I wanted to see a ghost town, so we drove to Gleeson- marked on the map as a “Ghost Town”. What a Bust! There were the ruins of one house,
and empty large building further up the road,
|an abandoned building...|
and a building marked “Gleeson Jail –Open”.
|and a jail, with a sign asking for pictures or information about Gleeson...|
Beautiful scenery, with wide fields, hills, and layers of mountains, but no arrows, markers or directions. The road wound through the hills
|An Arroyo- a dry river bed|
and came out right in Tombstone, so we stopped again at Wyatt’s Hotel and Coffee House. We started talking to the manager, from England, who told us that two years ago this was a building slated to be torn down. His friend from England bought it, and the [now] manager and a local crew gutted it and completely rebuilt it into 3 beautiful hotel suites decorated with period furniture, a Coffee House, and a Saloon-Theatre where they have daily reenactments of gunfights and life in the “Wild West”. That night we went to a great Italian Restaurant in Benson with a couple from Colborne, ON.
Next day was pack-up, and travel to Catalina State Park in NE Tucson. We hadn’t seen a cloud for ten days; the weather has been warm and sunny during the day. We love this park, right at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
|There were 5 Airstreams one day|
This time we had a real site in B loop. Sites are wide and well-spaced, with a paved pad. Washrooms rivalled Picacho Peak, huge showers, completely tiled, even the bench, and spotless. We were able to get both Tucson and Phoenix TV stations over the air.
We spent one day visiting Tucson Visitors’ Centre
|Square right beside the Convention Centre|
by the Convention Centre downtown, having lunch in the Old Town Artisans Café,
|A bus stop downtown|
The Central section
|The front courtyard and wings|
|The Old and new architecture in downtown Tucson|
Another day we drove to the Saguaro –West Tucson Mountain District of the Saguaro National Park. We went through the museum and Visitors’ Centre, walked along the wash around the Visitors’ Centre
and then drove up the mountain on the Bajada Loop scenic drive, which winds up the mountain side on an unpaved dirt road.
|Saguaro National Park|
There are a lot of hiking trails, and a few picnic areas. The Saguaro comes in many shapes. It is just a tall spike until it is 70-75 years old, then it starts to grow arms. They live for 175 to 200 years.
|Only the one on the left is over 75 years|
|some Saguaros have cristates|
|A saguaro growing in a mesquite nurse tree|
|The variety of cacti outside the Visitors' Centre|
|The Harris Hawk|
|Harris Antelope squirrel|
|Our favourite- the Roadrunner|
|The Javelina just hanging out! -usually they are hiding....|
Another big day was a visit to the Mission San Xavier del Bac and to the Titan Missile Museum. This magnificent sparkling white Mission, founded in 1692 by a Jesuit pioneer, and built in 1700’s is the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US.
Gracefully blending Moorish, Byzantine and late Mexican Renaissance, it rises out of the desert south of Tucson on the Papago Indian settlement.
|Chapel at he West end|
|Click on these to see the magnificent detail|
It has undergone several major repairs, due to earthquakes, lightning strikes and ravages of time and weather.
The Titan Missile Museum, is a Titan missile, with its ‘feet’ thirteen stories underground in a silo.
|Schematic of underground facility, Control Room to left, Missile to the right|
|The tunnel from the Control Room to the Missile|
The small museum on the surface, tells the story of the Titan missiles during the Cold War.
You then have a chance to go down 55 steps to the Control Room,
about half way down the missile. There are checks and counter checks before you get there, however. There are a series of telephone calls which must be made and a variety of ways to identify your legitimacy- from a password- handed to you just as you are ready to go down, then burned as soon as it is used, to a specific number of minutes you can take to go from one check-in point to another. Each crew was on duty for 24 hours, and had to remain in pairs at all times except when in the lunch/rest room. All commands in the firing process had two parts, the responsibility of two separate crewmen- there were 2 locks on the safe
with the code book inside, 2 keys, 2 steps to the firing process, carefully timed. This is the only missile silo still intact. All others were destroyed as part of the SALT treaty with the Soviet Union - imploded into themselves and filled in with rock and rubble. The cover over the missile silo has to be partially unsealed and covered with glass, so Russian satellites and inspectors can be sure it is not able to be used,
and the nose cone has a square opening cut into it to demonstrate that it’s not armed with a 9 megaton hydrogen bomb.
The main security outside is a series of pairs of huge doppler radar motion sensors
which bring the military police when set off. One missile silo’s intruder-warning was regularly set off by their friendly mountain lion who came to lie on the warm concrete silo cover each day. Our docent had worked at a missile site, so was able to explain in great detail and answer questions.
Much of our time at Catalina SP was spent talking to other campers, driving around the area, going to LA Fitness to work on our circuits or aquafit, finding wifi at McDonalds or Starbucks, and shopping for food.
The last trip we took was to Sabino Canyon by Mount Lemon. We got there in late afternoon and took an open shuttle bus up into the canyon over the Sabino Creek several times
– some of them over flooded bridges- then up the side of the canyon.
There are nine stops where passengers can get off and hike or walk to another stop for the ride back to the Visitors’ Centre.
It was pack-up for travel once again. We were only taking a short drive up the I-10 to Casa Grande to the Palm Creek RV Resort…