Alamo Lake

February 15 – 21

Nowhere-ville #2 and we traded coyote howls for wild burros braying.  The weather was cruddy, but we were entertained by the four hooved friends who frequented the campground.

Alamo Lake State Park

I picked this spot on the say-so of that lady back in New Mexico who also recommended Roper Lake State Park.  It wasn’t a bad stop, but if I had known just how remote it was, I surely wouldn’t have put us here on the heels of Ajo.  But, it’s winter and this is where we have a spot for a whoooooole week.

DSC00520

The views weren’t bad, especially on one of the rare nice days.  We had a view pretty much like this out our front window.  But, we had no cell service of any kind – Verizon or AT&T, so we had to drive a few miles to another area of the campground to get connected every day or so.

DSC00529

You know you’re in no man’s land when the trail map has the cell service zone prominently noted!

It’s a long way to anything, so we had to eat what we had on hand.  Questionable looking meat and limited veggies at the little Ajo market kept us from stocking up properly.  We survived using up some long standing “emergency” canned goods and all the meals in the freezer.  The ice cream ran out (horrors!), and I almost ran out of beer (I shudder to think how close we came).

Wild Burros

DSC00523

DSC00524

On our way back from connecting with the world, I spied a burro out of the corner of my eye.  I turned us around on the road and went back so get a better look.  We interrupted this one’s lunch of creosote bush.  At least now we know what they eat.  It was on our minds since there’s so much burro poop on the roads and in the campground and not a whole lot out in the desert to consume.

The burros would let out their brays and we would crane our necks trying to find them on the hillsides.  When we finally saw three of them at a distance it became clear what was going on.  That male donkey was feeling amorous.

DSC00532

The burros walked by our campsite frequently and I managed to catch this one when we were eating our dinner one evening.  That scene just screams Arizona desert to me.

DSC00527

Speaking of screaming, he was not happy with me interrupting his nightly constitutional.  Apparently he hee haws for more than one reason.

Still Winter

I have to say we’ve been less than impressed with the Southern Arizona winter.  They’ve had the coldest and snowiest one in probably 10 years.  Yay us experiencing it in the drafty motorhome.

At this stop we just stayed in and figured out other things to do.  I got a lot of cleaning done, made some cards and Pat was able to change the oil in the generator along with fixing the chair strap buckle that lost the battle with the slide-out.  Always something breaking, but at least I wasn’t responsible this time.  We also dusted off the cribbage board and re-learned to play.  Currently we’re in a tournament and brushing up so we can play with our friends Linda and Henry when we see them again in Sedona in March.

It rained and sleeted the last night so we had to check with the rangers on departure morning to make sure the road through the pass was do-able.  Just a light snow, so not a problem.  We’re so ready to leave so that was a good thing.

DSC00530

I’ll leave you with the snow and scrub shot.  Such contrasts in the high desert.

Next up: White Tank Mountain Park and back to civilization.  See you on the way!

Ajo & The Organ Pipe Cactus

February 10 – 14, 2019

Remote places like this are what keep me behind on the blog.  I was doing so well until we hit two nowhere places in a row.  This is the first, and the closest community to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that I was determined to visit.

Ajo Heights RV Park

Our home for the week was Ajo Heights RV Park where we slid in between snowbirds.  It was a typical private park with tight spaces, but a little more room than we expected.

DSC00513

We had enough space to put out Jackson’s ramp on a nice paved patio.  He really wasn’t in favor of this thing at first, but now I think he’s figured out why this is much better for his stiff hind legs.  It just proves an old dog can learn new tricks.  Good thing, too, since we weren’t sure what we’d do if he couldn’t navigate the stairs on his own.  Our old boy turned 10 at this stop.

DSC00514

Behind the RV park was a trail of sorts and we were trying to figure out what it used to be.  It dawned on Pat that we were looking at a former drive-in movie spot.  The poles for the speakers were still there along with the old snack-bar and entry shack walls.  Graffiti artists have apparently found the place, too, and I’d say they’re quite good.

The coyotes have also found the place, and they yipped and howled right behind our rig one night.  The next day Jackson wouldn’t go walking out behind the park.  He’s no fool.

Ajo, Arizona

I had read that this was a cute little town worth visiting in its own right.  It took us a bit to find that cuteness, but we finally did.  At first I thought it was all run-down and boarded up places and/or places to buy Mexico insurance.  Didn’t know what that was all about, but Pat informed me that your regular auto insurance from the US doesn’t cover you in Mexico.  These sketchy little kiosks will sell you something if you’re determined to drive on down, which we weren’t.

DSC00489

The Ajo town square was quaint and has that architecture we like with the arched entryways and terra cotta tile.  The town post office is here, too, which we usually have to find wherever we go so I can mail greeting cards and post cards.  This time we got our mail, too, by general delivery.  A disappointing haul, but we did get one package, two more Christmas cards, postcards asking for alumni info (I think they can’t find Ethan), catalogs, more junk mail, and the car registration sticker along with the reminder mailed a week later, but no sign of the tax documents we need.

 

Ajo (pronounced Ah-ho) likely got its name from the Spanish and their word for garlic.  It sounds a lot like the local O’odham tribe’s word for paint, o’oho, that they used to describe the red pigments they obtained from the local area rock.  That makes a lot more sense than garlic.

DSC00488

We saw this sign and took a walk to investigate thinking there were art shops in the alley.

Instead what we found was a surprising gallery of art painted on the backside of the buildings.  The one about humanitarian aid is huge down here since a jug of water can mean the difference between life and death in the desert.

IMG_20190213_134930

Ajo made it on the map due to mining.  One of the local sights we visited was the New Cornelia Mine overlook and museum.  This open pit copper mine is no longer in operation, but still has a brilliant green spring-fed pool at the bottom colored by copper sulfite.  The museum wasn’t open since the 80+ year old curator just had a heart issue, but we stood on tip-toe to get a photo through the fencing.  Apparently the part of town that’s not so cute is due to the mine closure in the mid-80s.  The railroad tracks are still there, but overgrown with bushes, and many of the buildings are frozen in time when prosperity just stopped.

DSC00491

We were probably less than 40 miles from the Mexico border here and that meant a border patrol checkpoint on the main road and signs like these where the pavement ends.

DSC00490

Mr. Coyote was curious when I stopped the car, but moved on quickly.  Behind him is the big pile of tailings from the copper mine.

Organ Pipe National Monument

The reason we visited this out of the way place was because of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument which is the only place in the United States to see large stands growing naturally.

DSC00493

Ajo is the closest place, but still 20 miles or so to the visitor’s center and scenic drive.  I liked this shot since it has the star Organ Pipe cactus, plus the still prominent Saguaro, as well as a blooming Ocotillo.

DSC00498

Our next installment of “where the pavement ends”.  The Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop.

DSC00519

The scenic drive took us by lots and lots of the organ pipe stands.  They reach a height of 15 feet tall and only grow in the Sonoran Desert.  After watching the visitor center movie, we realized we’ve now visited all the major deserts in the US: Chihuahuan (Big Bend), Great Basin (Death Valley), Mojave (Echo Canyon), and finally the Sonoran with its Organ Pipes.

DSC00508

They are pretty good sized and Pat’s posing by the one with the rare “cristate” growth.

DSC00507

Here’s the close-up of that weird growth.  The Saguaros do it, too, and they don’t know why.

DSC00504

We’ve been excited to see the blooming Ocotillo, also known as a Candlewood.  It’s thorns fool you into thinking it’s a cactus, but it’s a woody shrub and has brilliant red blooms at the top.  Those dead-looking limbs are covered with lush green leaves after a good rain.

Poppies, Organ Pipes, Saguaros, rock arch and other things that caught my eye on the scenic drive.

DSC00502

I’ll leave you with another poppy shot.  That’s it for this stop which was definitely off the beaten path.

Next up – Our second middle of nowhere stop even more remote than the last – Alamo Lake State Park.  See you on the way!

The Lost Dutchman

February 1 – 9, 2019

As the story goes, Jacob Walz, better known as The Lost Dutchman, died in 1891 with a sack of gold ore under his bed from a mine somewhere in the Superstition Mountains.  The gold mine’s location was never discovered, but the legend lives on.  Our next stop was at the state park named for the famous miner.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Another fantastic Arizona state park with fabulous views of the Superstition Mountains.

20190426

We were pretty impressed with our view out the front window.  I kept that snazzy windshield wiper in the shot so you’d believe me.

Looking down the road at our site just before sunset, another look at the Superstition Mountains by day and also the shrouded scene on one of the rainy days.  It’s been surprising just how much rain we’ve had this season in the desert.

DSC00458

It’s enough rain to make the Mexican poppies quite happy.

We really wanted to get out on the trail up into those mountains, but we had to be patient and wait out the weather.  There was a rainy day or two when the trail would be too slick, and then there were a few sharp windy days.  A little too brisk for us, so we continued to wait.  It was almost down to our last day before we could take the hike.

DSC00450

And here we go, out into the wilderness.

DSC00452

The trail map said that you could get to the basin fairly easily with a steady climb.  After that, it cautioned that the trail was no longer maintained and only serious experienced hikers should continue on.  Right about here we’re trying to figure out if the trail is still considered “maintained” or not.  But we passed a few people who said we were almost “there”.

This is “there” or the basin as the map called it.  It was pretty slippery just to get this far in the basin and Pat decided to call a halt at a nice sitting rock at the base.  I did a little scramble for my photo op.

DSC00453

Waaaay down there somewhere is the motorhome and Lost Dutchman State Park.

I saw the trail riders coming up, so we hustled to get as far along as we could to pull off the trail.  I really didn’t want to hike along behind the horses, if you know what I mean, but they saw the boulders ahead and turned back.  On our way back down we paused at the rock formation.  Rhino horn or shark’s fin?  We were undecided.

Family Time

This spot was booked a year ago before we knew that Pat’s nephew Tyler would be going to college in nearby Mesa.  What fun to get in another unexpected family visit.  We took him and his girlfriend Trinity out to dinner one night to catch up.  Hopefully they didn’t mind being grilled about classes (they are surprised to be enjoying them), their apartment (which is nice and has a washer and dryer – jealous!), and how they feel about living in Arizona (welcome to monsoons, dust storms and Saguaros).

Our original plan had us staying for just a week and bugging out on Friday.  That was until we heard about the big Arizona Renaissance Festival opening on Saturday.  The state park was completely booked, so we decided we’d stay the two additional days dry camping in the overflow parking lot.  Not our first choice, but we figured it would be worth it.  I kept holding out hope that we’d snag a “real” spot and looked online every day.  By some miracle, I was able to reserve a dry camping spot on the other side of the campground.  And we’re able to take Tyler and Trinity up on dinner on Friday at their place.  Trinity made awesome ribs and we got to play with her cat Leo.  A grand visit with the kids and hopefully we can do it again.

Canyon Lake

While we were biding our time waiting to get a real camping spot for our extra days, I found a campground in the Tonto National Forest that has water and sewer, but no electric.  An odd combination we’ve never seen, but worth a look.  Now getting there is another thing.  Likely the curviest road full of hairpin turns that we’ve been on yet.  We could get Lucy up there, but it’d be interesting.

DSC00444

The views from the drive were spectacular, but we decided to pass on the campground.  It would just take too long to get there even though it was only about 12 miles from Lost Dutchman.  The speed limit on this road is 25 most of the way and I couldn’t even achieve that some of the time.

DSC00430

What we did find was the Dolly Steamboat and lake tours.  You know how we love a good boat ride.

DSC00442

One of my favorite canyon views of the day with water lapping at the feet of the giant Saguaros.

The birds must have had special tickets.  They took the entire trip with us, snatching popcorn from the decks to make it worth their while.  The ducks, however, must not have sprung for the full fare.  They would fly like mad to catch up with the boat and come sliding to a landing right beside us begging for snacks.  After the boat left them behind, they’d do it all over again.

Wildlife sightings were great, too.  We saw lots of bighorn sheep including this mama and baby.  And that black thing in the photo on the right?  Well, that’s one of the baby javelinas stranded at the shoreline.  The tour guides have no idea how they got there and they’ll be calling Fish & Wildlife for a rescue.

A few more of rugged Canyon Lake.

Arizona Renaissance Festival

It’s our last day in the area and opening day for the AZ Renaissance Festival.  We can’t wait to take in the sights and sounds.

DSC00466

There was jousting (sadly our knight didn’t win)…

DSC00463

Snorkles the dancing pig….

Acrobats and music….

Archery and camels…

Codpieces (I’ll let you look that one up) and the hands-down weirdest booth — Mummified Faeries.

There was also dancing, drinking, magic shows, and the most elaborate costumes imaginable.  Everything from monks, knights, gypsies, sorcerers and maidens, to men in kilts.  We had such fun enjoying all the shows.  Food, not so much.  I hope we run across another one of these festivals in our travels so we can go again.

The Sun Bids Us Farewell

While walking Jackson on our last evening at Lost Dutchman, we were treated to quite a show.  I ran back to the RV for my camera and so glad I did.

DSC00476

The Superstition Mountains in the golden glow at sunset.

DSC00479DSC00482DSC00480DSC00477

Day is done, gone the sun.  And that’s how it’s done in the desert.

Next up – Ajo, Arizona and a visit to see the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  See you on the way!

 

 

Kartchner Caverns

January 22 – 31

I booked this location last year as one of the biding-our-time-until-it’s-warm-enough-to-go-to-the-Grand-Canyon stops.  Although it was a little colder at an altitude of 4700 feet, it sure beat the below zero temps that a lot of the country was experiencing.  Plus our friends Linda & Henry joined us here for a week.

Kartchner Caverns State Park

This state park seems to be a crown jewel in the Arizona parks system.  The amenities here rivaled those of some national parks and they’re way less fussy about the rules.  The sites were huge and we had access to grand hiking trails along with a big visitor’s center and cavern tours.

Our first order of business was to do a little hiking to get the blood flowing.

DSC00404

We hiked the Foothills trail and were treated to expansive views.

A little scrambling was required to get up the last part of the trail to the viewpoint, but we managed it up and down without incident.  That yucca to the left was very attractive to the prettiest butterfly and I tried mightily to get a good photo of him while we rested and gazed out at the mountains.

DSC00426

This fellow is a Great Purple Hairstreak and when his wings are open, they are the most vivid blue.  Apparently the males fight for the right to occupy the highest hill tops, so made sense that we found him here.  Apparently not just people play king of the mountain.

The Caves

IMG_0403

We weren’t particularly looking for a cave tour this time around.  This one would make our sixth cave adventure and we were beginning to think that we’d seen all the underground formations we needed to.  But, we were here with our friends and we did want to see what Kartchner had to offer that might be different.

For starters, the visitor’s center had some great exhibits.  Our friend Linda took our picture as we crawled through the spaces simulating the original holes that the discoverers used.  Actually our holes were bigger and I seriously wouldn’t want to be wriggling through a space that small for hundreds of feet underground.

We ended up taking the Rotunda tour to see the five-story formation named Kubla Khan.  It was pretty impressive.  Fortunately I won’t subject you to more dark, blurry underground photos of the tour since they didn’t allow you to take cameras, phones, or anything else.

In order to take the tour, we did have to get our shoes sprayed with alcohol to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome in bats.  Apparently it’s easily spread and kills virtually all the bats that come down with it.  Since our shoes had been in other caves we needed the treatment.  They told me they prefer we wear different shoes, but I noted that we don’t have that many pairs.  It turned out to be a spectator sport and the rest of the tour group got to watch as we sat on the bench with our feet in the air, letting our boots dry.

Hiking With Linda & Henry

DSC00408

On one of our outing days, we hiked the Guindani Trail with Linda & Henry.  They are real birders and I look having them with us so they can tell me the names of the birds we spot.  We saw a bluebird on this particular hike and quite a few others.  They pull out their binocs and rattle off all kinds of good details which I promptly forget.

I marvel at tenacious plants that can grow out of a rock.  And the cholla cactus with their yellow hair bows were pretty, too.

DSC00410

Pat led the way most of the time and we only went astray once near the water.  And yes, there was an honest to goodness flowing stream in this canyon.  That’s something we hadn’t seen or heard in quite a while.

DSC00407

There’s Pat waiting for us slow pokes to catch up.  I was taking pictures and Linda & Henry were “botanizing”.  Their term for being waylaid by an interesting plant.

DSC00411

Almost back to the campground and the completion of our hike that was about four miles and some change.

Cave Fest

Over the weekend, the park hosted their annual Cave Fest.  They had lots of exhibits mainly geared for children, but we found a few interesting things.

DSC00413

In honor of the bats in the caverns, one man built this car using a VW Bug chassis and had it on display in the parking lot.  It’s in all the local parades and the guy gets loads of attention driving down the highway.

DSC00412DSC00414

The boys got all kinds of details about the build from the owner and he was pretty proud of little touches like the batman floor mats and wheel covers.  Pat thought it was the best thing at Cave Fest.

IMG954326

I liked holding Leticia, a 20-year-old, 30 pound boa constrictor.  I hadn’t intended to “hold” her, but I was standing next to the handler petting her and she just slithered around my neck.  Gave me the shivers.  Under my right hand I could even feel her heart beating.  The snake handler had many desert critters on display including other snakes, toads, a gila monster, and tarantulas.  Those were all displayed behind glass thank goodness.

Fun With Friends

It’s fun to meet up with people we’ve met previously on the road, and we were looking forward to seeing our friends Linda and Henry again.  They’re from Maine and we first met them in Texas last winter and enjoyed outings with them in New Mexico.  We’d been keeping up with them via text leading up to our arrival at Kartcher and knew they’d get there a day ahead of us.  Since they were all settled in, they offered to make dinner on our first night.  We’d never turn that down!

We enjoyed Caribbean pot roast, mashed sweet potatoes (that Henry had to mash with a fork since they didn’t have a potato masher on hand), and cherry crisp made using Linda’s cherries from her tree at home.  It was all very yummy and so nice for a travel day.  We hosted in Lucy since they traded their fifth wheel in for a smaller trailer that they affectionately refer to as Stubby.  They’re on their way to Alaska this summer and Stubby is the perfect size.

We cooked our favorite meal of grilled chicken breasts, yellow rice and grilled veggies another night followed by a rousing game of cards.  In fact, we played most nights teaching each other new card games.  We learned to play progressive rummy, malice (which is just as cut-throat as the name implies), and golf, while we taught them to play 99 which we learned from Pat’s mom.  We’ll be seeing them again in Sedona in March and we have plans for a hot game of Mexican train dominoes.

Bisbee

My hairdresser in Tucson told me that I really should see Bisbee.  She described the town as perched on a mountainside and very picturesque.  This camping spot was the closest at an hour drive, so we made plans with Linda and Henry to go.

DSC00417

This town is on the map all because of copper mining.  They have a huge open pit mine as well as an underground mine that you can tour.  After the salt mine tour in Kansas, we’re all about seeing other types of mines.

20190415

Here we are all outfitted for the mine with our hard hats, lights and vests.

DSC00418

Retired mine employees lead the tours and take you into the mine on the same trolley that miners used for years.  For this mine, the trolley takes you 1500 feet into the hillside instead of going down a shaft.  Estimated production for this mine was 8,032,352,000 lbs of copper, 2,871,786 ounces of gold, 77,162,986 ounces of silver, 304,627,600 lbs of lead and 371,945,900 lbs of zinc in its 100 years of operation.

Our first stop on the tour took us to the original mining area underground.  Our final stop found Pat checking out the “sanitation” car.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.

DSC00421

My favorite story was about the donkeys who pulled the mining cars underground.  They received good care and feeding and didn’t go blind from the experience as the rumors would have you believe.  They did have to introduce them back to the sunlight gradually though, starting with pinholes in sacks over their heads.

Benton Visitor Center

Remember that guy with the bat car?  Well he also runs the local visitor center and told Pat about the train exhibit on site in the old Benson train station.  He said we could “drive” the train and that’s all we needed to hear.

20190423

Union Pacific railroad provided the center with an actual console just like the ones in the train engines.  Bat Car Guy set it up and attached a camera to the front of the model train that goes around the ceiling so you can “see” the train as you drive.  After a short training session, Pat was officially the engineer.  Two toots of the horn to go forward and three toots to back it up.

20190424

And there’s the little train going round and round.  It was such fun and we got official certificates to certify that we are train engineers.  Well, at least for this model.  I’m pretty sure Union Pacific isn’t putting us to work.

Other Stuff We Did

When we checked into the campground, we were told that this is pack rat country.  If we have lights, we need to use them to light up the underside of our motorhome and the engine of the car.  Otherwise, the rats get in there and chew up wiring and anything else they get their little choppers on.  As skeptics, we had to research this.  We’re still not totally convinced that the Christmas light strings around all the RVs are really useful, but Pat did get a shop light from the local Wal-mart to hang under Bitsy’s hood every night.

Pat also sanitized our fresh water tank (a yearly task), and checked around underneath Lucy’s chassis.  This is when he discovered that the sway bar in the back was missing some parts and likely not preventing any sway at this point.  We have no idea when this happened, but suspect it was during the jangling drive in or out of Alaska.  What to do?

Well, he looks on line and finds the parts at a dealership in Tucson.  Since I have to go back to pick up a package that arrived two days after we departed, it seemed like the perfect plan,  Pick up parts, pick up package and do laundry.  I accomplished the mission and Pat made the repair.  And he is happy to report that the semis passing on the interstate no longer push us around.

DSC00405

I’ll leave you with this view of the surrounding hills from the campground, likely full of caves.

Next Up – Lost Dutchman State Park outside of Phoenix.  See you on the way!