Monday, 27 February 2012

Dixie Goes Down Under

Travelling south and east from Ajo, we passed through some interesting grasslands with Soap Yucca
growing everywhere. Some interesting roadkill: a cow that was being devoured by a coyote and vultures and a Javelina (wild pigs that roam around here, somewhat like a cross between a pot bellied pig and a warthog)

It would be cool to see a live family of these! Many hillsides were loaded with Saguaro cactus that looked like forest-fire remnants in Canada, bare hills and hundreds of "poles". We also had a break at the side of the road to wait for an "OVERSIZE LOAD" to pass by, that occupied both lanes. We passed many small towns and villages comprised of shacks and pueblo designed homes, some with a school or gas station; most with dusty yards and grand collections of old rusted trucks and junk.

Kitt Peak Observatory was a twelve mile drive up the mountain. We parked, locked up CC and drove up in the SUV. We spent a few hours wandering the grounds and checking out the various huge telescopes. One is the world's largest solar observatory! There are scientists and astronomers from universities all over the states that study here. The mountain and valley views were gorgeous even if somewhat hazy. It was much cooler at 8000 feet but the sun made the temperature just perfect for trekking about. Dixie found a few patches of snow and entertained some of the visitors with her snow-passion, rolling around in the white stuff. Unable to stay for the dusk tour but learned a lot from the Information centre. The valley towns, nearby such as Tuscon have to use special downward facing lighting to eliminate night light that would interfere with the observatory.

Camped at Justin's Diamond J RV park and enjoyed an authentic barbque dinner at 'The Brushfire' in Tucson. Up early and travelled to the Tombstone Territories RV Park. After having our credit cards refused at a couple of places, we learned that our bank had sent new cards to all its customers (they are moving head office) and they cancelled all the current cards! What the **** ??? Here we are with a US account so we can avoid the large exchange rate and the bank cancels our cards WITHOUT notifying us and sent our new cards to ONTARIO! So we are now waiting for the UPS truck to deliver our second set of banking cards here to the RV park. Luckily there are many things to do.
Tombstone itself is a famous mining town where the Earp brothers were Marshalls. The Town is famous for the shootout at the OK Corral with the Earps and McLaurys. We watched a great reenactment of the historic event. We lunched at "Big Nosed Kate's Saloon" the gal who loved Doc Holliday. The streets are closed to traffic with the exception of horse-drawn vehicles. Lots of costumed folk help add atmosphere to Tombstone. We learned a lot about the history and mining and saloon-life in the museums, packed with old and dusty artifacts and curled photos.

We cooled off on an underground tour of the old Tombstone Silver Mine. Dixie was allowed to join us and learned about how the early miners used hand tools and candlelight to bore holes for dynamite to blast out the rock. Dixie loved the smells that had been building up down there since the 1800's. She especially liked it when the tour guide asked if the dog was enjoying herself ?

Another hike, took us around "Boothill Cemetery" a stony graveyard filled with outlaws, miners, unknowns,
prisoners, lawmakers and saloon entertainers.

We travelled south to another former mining town called Bisbee. Chris played good samaritan on the way and changed a flat tire for a stranded couple. The old town has been renovated and is very colourful and quaint. The miners are gone and the artisans have taken over. We discovered many great galleries and shops, all with unique and creative art and crafts. How they make a living is questionable.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Treasures of the Desert

Camping in the BLM lands of Arizona's desert is so laid back and peaceful. At Painted Rock Petroglyph Park we lived like the cowboys, rising with the sun, playing out on the range during the day and eatin some grub around the campfire after dark. I suspect that the cowboys did not have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, salad stuff in the fridge and selections for the bar-b-que on ice.

The hiking paths were sandy and after our hikes past the gorgeous fat fishhook barrel cactus and stony outcroppings, we carted tons of desert dust into CC on a daily basis.
Farming in the area is mainly cotton and roadsides and pathways were often lined with soft fluffy cotton balls that also decorated low trees looking like fake spider webs that folks put out at Halloween. Irrigation was also supporting green fields of clover used to feed the local dairy cattle. Cows here are penned into small areas in the dead heat and corralled for milking The Ontario cattle don't know how good they have it!

We enjoyed daily airshows from the local base who flew by a couple of times a day. Also a crop duster would fly over the local field and drop showers of "whatever it was?"; it was far enough away not to worry about.  Also, one of the campers had a battery operated plane that he flew a couple of times a day. Yes, life is simple in the desert.
The landmark at the park entrance was literally a pile of rocks bearing petroglyphs from many eras. Lizard's, hunting figures and spirals were remains of native prehistoric peoples. There were also some signatures from
some explorers in the 1700's and a few 1950's mementos. Unfortunately a few modern obscenities were carved next to the historic treasures. Alas, graffiti has been around for centuries.

We drove a couple of miles over to some historic burial sites of some pioneer families. One grave held some children from the Forr family whose lives were short due to harsh living conditions and poor medical knowledge. The site was a simple pile of rocks and a small brass marker. People had left coins in homage.
Many of these places could be missed if not for word of mouth directions from the locals. We climbed up a nearby rocky cliff to see a simple sign and humble grave site for the Oattman family. As many were in those days, the Oattman's were murdered by Indians when they headed out on their own from their wagon train. The story was preserved by one daughter who survived her capture and lived to tell the sad news of her family's demise. Later that day we listened to the calls of a burrowing owl hooting up a storm in the night.

The most isolated camping spot we've stayed at was in BLM land just outside of Ajo. We spent eight days there taking daily hikes, visiting the sights of the mining town of Ajo, reading and relaxing. Our nearest neighbours were at least a mile away. The solitude was magnificent. There are a large number of Saguaro cactus here, each unique with personalities like people, some tall and proud, others outgoing with many arms flailing, a few shy babies growing up,as they do, in the shelter of trees and bushes and others with top notches, or those with 5 or 6 rounds sprouts, like small hedgehogs, ready to grow into huge arms one day. The wear and tear on some of those monumental plants is amazing, large gashes, woodpecker holes and shrivelled skin due to lack of moisture or disease. Those beauties don't even grow arms until they are a minimum fifty years old!  There were patches of teddy bear cactus so crammed with lethal needles on their boughs and in the piles on the ground below, we were calling them mine fields. Dixie got a few stuck in her paws but luckily would stop immediately for us to pluck out the spines.
We also investigated many Organ Pipe Cactus, a species we'd not seen before. The days are getting warmer and some new flowers are blooming like the bushes of yellow Woolly Marigolds, purple Scorpion Weed and tiny white blooms of Rattlesnake Weed. Bunches of red berried Misletoe hang in clumps from the green Palo Verde trees attracting birds and bees; although we have not seen much kissing. One day we searched for some rare Elephant trees which proved to be difficult to identify. We startled 3 mule deer who bounded away at top speed well camouflaged except by their movement. We've also seen a couple of Black-tailed Jack Rabbits whose ear length equal their body height. A group of brightly coloured orange and black Long-Jawed Long-Horn Beetles put on an entertaining mating display for us. There are many birds here whose songs begin at sunrise and carry on into dusk. We've identified ravens, golden eagles,hawks of some sort, doves,woodpeckers, wrens and warblers.

It is amazing how each desert environment is slightly different from another when separated only by miles. The lands around the campsite were used as military training grounds in the past and we found deep craters,presumably from old dropped bombs in the ground to attest to this. We also enjoyed daily very low flybys of two A10 Warthogs from a local Air force Base.  In the night sky we witnessed flares on the horizon dropping in some sort of training manoeuvres.
 The town of Ajo was built around a very successful copper mine. On our daily hikes we passed many small mine sites, some abandoned and others fenced and ready for further exploration. We also found was a maze of old rusted cans created by some creative and very patient person.

 Ajo had an attractive city centre with bright white Spanish style church, town hall and market place. An old professor and former
Mexican mine worker enlightened our tour of the quaint Ajo Historical Society Museum. Their eclectic collection inclded an old dentist's office, printing equipment, various tools and military trapping, local ancient pottery and baskets and a mismatched bunch of kitchen and homemaking articles from the 40's and 50's. Our explorations outside town were around the old mill at Darby Well Site, an abandoned cattle ranch and an interesting Mexican cemetary. Our only human contact in our desert site was a visit from a fellow blogger and full time RVer Sue. She is an interesting adventurer who travels with her two small dogs and writes a  personable blog called rvsue and her canine crew. One day we actually had enough rain to form a few puddles! Desert = diversity.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentine's Day

                                         Tell someone that you love them, today!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Arizona Icons

 RV park, railway, hotels and restaurants are run by one company,Xanterra who embrace great service, "green" tourism and entertainment celebrating the heritage of the area. We camped in Williams RV Park and filled all their washers and dryers with our dust-filled desert laundry. In the morning, we booked Dixie into the kennel, breakfasted at the hotel and watched the reenactment of a gun fight by cowboys, horses and the heroic Marshall who brought peace and justice to the scene.

Even the conductor and greeters were decked out in period costumes as they guided us to our seats on the vintage train. The coaches are restored with passion by folks who value the history of the Grand Canyon Railway. Our tour guide, whose actual name was Amber Rose, provided an excellent, upbeat description of the railway's past, explained the geography of the area, gave us some insight into the people who work to maintain the history of the area and guided us to the best views and restaurants in the Grand Canyon South Rim. A seasoned cowboy and his gorgeous Gibson guitar set the mood with a few classic cowboy ballads like "The Freight Train Song" and "Texas Ranger". On our journey, we saw caribou, a herd of antelope and some cattle that wander the plains in winter and are herded back by their ranchers in the spring.

Our first awe-inspiring glance over the Canyon was Grand!  I visited the north rim about forty years ago with my family and confirm the concept that the Canyon is Grand whenever and wherever you view it. We've often visited Niagara Falls, another natural wonder, yet the experience is unique and exhilarating each time! Everyone knows what the Grand Canyon looks like so there is no need to describe the view. However, what one experiences by actually standing on the edge, overlooking the vast Precambrian display, are the intrinsic and spiritual sensations that grip you to the core.

The pathways skirting the rim have great information plaques and large sample of the many types of rock found within the canyon. We visited the cool Geology museum, Hopi House, Lookout Studio and Kolb Studio. An enthusiastic, bushy-bearded park ranger took us through the home, studio and theatre of the Kolb brothers. Their 1905 darkroom, produced hundreds of souvenir photos of folks travelling down into the canyon on mule back. A successful female architect and designer, Mary Colter, has left her mark in many of the buildings along the south rim. She designed Lookout Studio, hotel fireplaces, windows, porches, lamps, housewares and the Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins where we stayed. We savoured a great dinner while we watched the sunset over the canyon at the rustic "El Tovar" Hotel.  The dining room was decorated with huge panels painted with Hopi designs and our window seat was beside the huge stone fireplace that took the chill off the room when the sun descended.

After breakfast we ventured up the other side of the trail where we could look down on hikers far below.
We ventured down the Bright Angel Trail but ice and snow made it too dangerous for a long hike. We met some adventurers who had arrived at the rim after spending four nights at the bottom of the canyon. The sky was cloudy and added some drama to the view creating effects of a theatrical spotlight on distinctive plateaus and fissures. Our train headed back south at 3:30 pm. Another singing cowpoke entertained us with some country humour such as the famed "Cinderfella" story and the song "I am my own Grandpa". About half way home, the train was held up by cowboys who boarded the train and proceeded to rob the passengers at gun point. Sounds corny but they were really convincing and fun!

Dixie was happy to see us and agreed that she may have enjoyed the train ride but would have hated the singing! CC's fridge was dead when we got home so we lost all our frozen food and lots of our fresh stuff Yikes, another problem?  Luckily, in the morning light, Chris was able to wiggle some wires back into submission and low and behold, the fridge turned cold again! We did detect another problem with a back jack and headed southwest to Sedona to explore while the parts made their way to the repair shop.

Rancho Sedona RV Park was quite pleasant with a small river running beside it, white winding sycamore trees overhead and sculptured red rock buttes looming in the distance. There were egrets minding their nests in a rookery just 25 feet above the RVs. Spent a good part of the next three days exploring the famous red rock country by car and on foot. The sky was active with clouds and produced some dramatic light play across the buttes and valleys. As well as some great trails to hike, we saw many birds and cacti among the low green trees and crimson pathways. Dixie's pads were packed with the distinctive red dust of Sedona.
The rock formations are classic to the Arizona landscape with names like Bell Rock, Cock's Comb, Thumb Butte and Coffeepot Rock. Galleries and shops in the area carry a range of artifacts representing the Hopi,.Navajo and Mexican cultures of the area. We enjoyed a fresh Tex-Mex dinner at the upscale Elote Cafe and toasted Sedona with beet Margaritas.

About an hour's drive from Sedona is Montezuma's castle, two cliff side ruins of the Anasazi peoples. The oldest one consists of caves and rock walls along the base of the cliff. The more impressive is a four story  brick and adobe structure built directly into the side of the cliff  forty feet from ground level.

From there we drove to the former copper mining town of Jerome. It's buildings are piled up on a hillside overlooking amazing views of the distant mountains and desert. We looked down the mine shaft and perused some rusty mining equipment, then walked about the town. It was a busy Sunday afternoon and tourists and locals filled the bars and restaurants and checked out the galleries and shops. One entrepreneurial dude had his motorcycle decked out with a platform and two highback chairs. He was touring people about town and up into the switchback mountain roads at top speed with muffler-free engines roaring. The last thing you saw as he rumbled past were the row of skulls he had mounted on the bike's back bumper.
Next, we followed the faded signs to Gold King Mine and Ghost Town. We had a blast roaming about the wooden outbuildings and pathways that were all crammed with cars, machinery, tools, furniture,signs and myriad rusted artifacts from the past. The owner, Don Robertson was an authentic prospector type with scruffy blond hair under his ancient leather cowboy hat and a friendly, face weathered as much as the treasures he'd collected. The dentist's office, blacksmith shop, sawmill, walk-in mine, overflowing sheds and barns were a photographer's paradise. Don also had over 100 antique trucks and buses and like everything he collected, it all sat open to the elements ready to collect dust and rust. He lives on the property and has chickens, goats and a mule that wander everywhere. We ended our great day with a wholesome dinner at The Mile High Inn and Grill while we listened to live jazz and read the signs covering the walls; two of my favourites: "I started out with nothing and I have most of it left" and "It doesn't matter how new age you get; old age will always catch up to you."

February 5, we drove west to Quail Ridge RV Park near Mayer Arizona. The following day we ventured in to Prescott. We hiked around Lake Wilson and Dixie had a chance to swim and chase sticks to her heart's content. We walked about the town of Prescott taking in its Victorian home, great art galleries and old city hall. The most famous block is called "Whisky Row" where bars and saloons sit side by side and were visited regularly by the early day cowboys. The original buildings burned down in the early 1900's but all have been rebuilt and restored. We had a beer at the most famous "Palace Saloon" a huge building where Doc Holliday and brothers Virgil and Wyatt Earp drank and gambled back in the day. A huge building, it had traditional metal ceiling tile, heavy wooden bar and mirror, mounted deer heads, the winding staircase to the brothel and many display cases and photos of olden day treasures.

We are living in the present once again in the desert at Arizona's Petroglyph Campground. It averages 80 degrees F. in the afternoon but it's a dry heat and only feels like 75!