Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bates Well

Odometer 60614
Trip Meter 0

Bates Well on the Organ Pipe Cactus Monument

Our Trip today will take us over BLM roads south of town and into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument some 20 miles south.  We are planning to visit the former ranch of Henry Gray whose family ranched in this area from the 1920s up to Henry's death in 1976.

Bates Well is located  about 20 miles south of Ajo in the Organ Pipe National Monument
The road to the ranch is at the start of the EL Camino Del Diablo or the Devil's Highway.  The road  continues from the ranch here on west to Yuma.  The road was created along footpaths used by the Native Americans in this area in the 16th century.  The Spanish Conquistadors used and improved this to a wagon road,  and later in the 1840s prospectors used the road to go overland to the gold fields in California.  The rough conditions, extreme heat and cold, and the lack of drinking water made this "highway" a deadly prospect for the unweary, and it earned the name Devils Highway.

The National Monument has created a nice wide, flat parking area off the road

This portion of the road is heavily traveled by Border Patrol agents and the washboard surface can jar your teeth.  No matter, that's just the way it is out here- there is little-to-no road maintenance.  For us in Mark's trusty Samurai this portion of the highway is a piece of cake.

The closest pump was right by the parking lot
You turn off the main road into a fenced parking area that is obviously not original to the ranch, and probably installed by the National Monument staff.  Obvious because it is built of pine log posts and rails- none of those in this area.
One of the first things that grabs my attention is that there are three wells with wind pumps on them around the ranch house.
Second pump workable but not hooked up

Third Pump had no vanes

This unassuming little house was the main ranch house for the property.  Stucco walls and corrugated metal roof.

The kitchen at Bates Well ranch.  Note the under mount sink and butcher block counter tops!

The house is fairly intact- the best I've seen at any of the ranches that I have visited.  The Monument staff has taken out the glass windows and replaced them with heavy wire screens to ward off the inevitable rock throwers, but still allow light and ventilation.  The floor is concrete slab with vinyl asbestos tiles many of which are missing or loose.  The walls, where they are covered, are sheathed with 1/8 inch 4x8 sheets of masonite as here in the kitchen, or wide flat boards and wall paper as in the rest of the house. The ceiling covering has been removed, again probably a nod to keeping the rats and mice from nesting.

Ranch living

There are several other cabins and outbuildings in this immediate area- more in line with what you'd expect at a working cattle ranch.  It looked like at least three other hands lived on the main ranch here in one-room cabins.  The main house was wired with electrical lights, but it was the only one, and it was not apparent where they may have generated the power for them.

Out buildings near the corral

This group of buildings was close to a corral (and water pump) and one of the out buildings looked like it was set up for tack and feed.
Tack house

My guess is that most of the buildings were originally finished with corrugated metal siding and roofs.  The roofs of these buildings are still mostly intact, but on many of the outbuildings the wall coverings had been "appropriated"  for other uses, leaving a light an breezy look to the insides.

This bunkhouse is a little breezy

The tack house looked like it had never been clad, and the wood on the exterior has weathered to this rich red- brown hue.

Corrugated metal panel
There were pieces of corrugated metal sheathing lying here and there, all over the ranch, most likely caught by the wind and separated from its attachments, gently flown to a new resting place.  I haven't shown pictures any of the collapsed structures, of which there are many.  Any of those could have been the donor of this brightly colored sheet of steel.

One thing I remember from my childhood days in Montana, any structure left unused by man will soon become inhabited by pack rats, and that is so true here.  Many of the open buildings had twig mounds indicative of a pack rat nest.

Mark and I spent the better part of an hour roaming the grounds- never saw another person the whole time.  Although we did see several Border Patrol trucks thunder past on the road during this time

Metal water pipe leading off into the desert

We saw a pipeline running from well #1 out into the shrubs and trees an decided to follow it to see where it goes.  We were astounded!  It goes for hundreds of feet to the south.  Starts out in 2-1/2" iron pipe and transitions down to 1-1/2 about 500 feet from the well, and continues another 500 feet to a corral and a huge concrete stock tank.

Second trough at the south corral
We were quite impressed with the water works!

By special agreement when the National Monument was created in 1937 by President Roosevelt, the Gray family was allowed to continue ranching and running a herd on the monument until the last of the then living Grays, lived.  When the youngest son Henry died in 1976 the cattle were barred from the monument and the homestead was incorporated into the wilderness.  It was an unusual arrangement and many still question the wisdom of letting cattle run wild in this fragile part of the desert for nearly 4 decades after the creation of the monument.

I am very surprised that the Monument staff chose to preserve this site rather than obliterate it as the staff of the neighboring Cabeza Prietta Wildlife Refuge has chosen to do with the many sites under their jurisdiction. 

It is fun to allow yourself to step back in time and imagine how it must have been back in the early 1900s to have been living out here, most of a days ride on horseback, from the nearest town.  Punching cows all day long, and maybe, if you're real lucky, a cool beer soaking at the bottom of the cattle trough, when you get back to the ranch.

Time for us to make the grueling  (easy) hours drive back to town!  😏

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ajo Art and Geology

Odometer 60614
Trip Meter 0

 Marble Mountain

My friend, and hiking buddy, Mark asked if there were any places I'd been wanting to see, so I asked him if we could take couple trips- One out to "Marble Mountain" (not sure that's its real name), and a trip to Bates Well on the El Camino del Diablo highway.

Marble Mountain got its name from the millions of small stone marbles that ring its base.  The trip out from Ajo is only about 20 miles, but it is a rough and tumble road so the trip takes about an hour and a half.

The hill in the background of the photo above is the "Marble Mountain"   I couldn't wait to see if the stories were true.

One scoop with my hand and I came up with these specimens.  In just a few minutes I had a handful!  Oh- that's a flake of apricot colored quartz there too. 

I spent half an hour wandering up and down the slopes looking at the ground and delighting at the variety of  small round orbs.  I found what looked like clumps of marbles embedded in stone- like a bullet mold poured with rock.  There are several theories about how these formed and the most reasonable theory I've read, is that the sedimentary rock formed in the empty bubble voids formed in volcanic magma.

I wanted to fill my pockets with marbles and fragments of rock with marbles in them- but reason descended over my enthusiasm.  What would I do with them?  I don't need this type of souvenir- especially living in a motorhome.  Leave them here for others to find and delight in them as I did.

When Joan and I first arrived back in town we were surprised and pleased to see that the murals in Artist's Alley had overflowed out on to the walls of several adjacent buildings. 

Early one morning I slung my camera over my shoulder and headed down town to snap some pictures of the new additions.

All the art is beautifully done, but I confess, I don't always understand the message.

Hope you enjoyed it! 
In my next post I'll show you what we found on our trip to Bates Well. 

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ajo Again!

Odometer 60614
Trip  284 miles

Tucson, AZ

It was a short hop into Las Cruces where we intended to fuel up for the long haul into Trucson on I-10.

We both like the city of Las Cruces, and having spent a couple days here last week, we kinda know where to find some key places around town.  We decided to do a two-fer, get diesel and grab a Starbucks on our way back to the freeway.  You know what they say about the best laid plans...

We got in- but getting out was a little more difficult
I looked at this station on google satellite and it appeared to have enough room to get in and out with our bus-car combination- but that was before we found out that half of the pumps were out of service.
Getting to this pump and leaving room for cars to come and go- I got myself in a bind and we had to do a quick un-hook to get out.

The rest of the trip into Tucson was uneventful, and we arrived early enough to get set-up in the Rincon Country East RV Park with our Passport discount.  This is a destination resort style RV park that fills with snowbirds in the winter.  (All the pictures I thought I took are nowhere to be found sorry)  The park will not be accepting Passport overnighters after the end of the month.
We are here for tonight and tomorrow after a quick provisioning run we'll be on our way to Ajo.

Odometer 60608
Trip 146 miles

On to Ajo

We woke early and by 8:30 we were in the car and ready to SHOP!
I have our stops all programmed into my iPhone and we race out to a key shop where we get a replacement set of keys made for the ones we left at home.  One key is really wierd and the lock shop doesn't have a blank.  Ace Hardware down the street doesn't disappoint- they have it and make it for us!
Next stop Fry's where we load up on groceries- a boat load of things we can't get in Ajo, then back to the park where it's time to check out.
We gobble a quick lunch of soup and bread and head out to get Propane in the bus, the last thing on our list.  We cruised down to the Pilot/ Flying J on I-10 and pay the going rate of $3.09/ gallon for 23 gallons in our 24 gallon (net) propane tank.  This time the in-and-out are a lot easier!

I like going the southern route to Ajo on Arizona highway 86.  Most of the route is through the Tohono O'Odham Nation, and goes right past Kit Peak observatory.  The route up I-10 is longer, and faster, but we only going 146 miles and I prefer to stay off the interstate.

We did not know that there was a dust storm brewing and that we would end up driving through it.   Visibility at the road was never a problem, but we sure choked on dust for about 10 miles before passing out the other side.
Once out of the band of dust, the skies were clear and the air was clear.  Probably took a toll on our air cleaner though.

Home for now
40 minutes later we were arriving in Ajo.  The town has changed a little since our departure last spring and I can't wait to share some of those changes with you in my next post.  Meanwhile time to get setup.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Texas Hill Country

Odometer 59825
Trip 303 miles

Texas Hill Country

Monday dawned cool and gray, like a day wrapped in damp cotton.  Too bad too, because today we will be traveling through what is know as the Texas Hill Country

Monday's route 

The weather wasn't the only thing I could describe as damp cotton, day two of a nasty cold, had me coughing and sneezing.  We got off to a late start with Joan letting me sleep in as long as I wanted, but eventually we were back on the trail.  Fueled with coffee and bagels, shored up with Dayquil.  Right away we missed a critical turn and ended up taking a "shortcut" up to Hico and back to Hamilton.  The clouds are determined to stay right down on the hilltops today.
We stopped only to fix a quick bite of lunch at Menard.  Soup and sandwiches and a 10 minute nap for me and off again headed for fort Stockton for the night.

US 190  looking west toward Eldorado, TX

It was a little after 4 PM when we topped a rise and saw bright light on the horizon!  Could this be the Edge of Night!

US 190 in Texas just east of  Iraan, TX

A half hour later we actually drove out from under the grey blanket that has had us in it's grips since dawn.  Whew! Glad it was only a 300 mile wide blanket.
I wanted to go on to Fort Stockton, but my energy was running on empty as we got close to Iraan, TX.  Joan found a city park that had full hookups and a fabulous rate of $15/ night.  Incidentally the name of the town is pronounced Ira-anne by the locals.  The town was named after a rancher  named Ira and his wife named, you guessed it, Ann Yates.  They gave up part of their land for the town site.  There are a few Youtube spoofs on the town that promote the premise that it is a ghost town created by our government to hide a secret installation.  All we know is the RV park is quiet, clean, and inexpensive.

A somewhat sleepless night later, we packed up for the 3rd day of our journey out of Texas.

Odometer 60178
Trip  335 miles

Tuesday morning, our route for the day

Today will be a bit of a slog on the interstate, but it's the only route that heads even somewhat in the right direction from here.
We settled into a rhythm of Christmas music and warm sun pouring in the windows, a smile on our faces, when the melody changed to BuZZZZZ..... and a red warning light on the dash!

Dash gauge's showing zero on rear air pressure (bottom center)

Our old friend, the cold solder joint in the Vehicle Display Unit rears it's head again.  This problem first occurred when we were cruising down a steep grade in Tennessee in 2013.  The way we know it's just a display malfunction is that we still have air pressure even though the lower gauge on the dash display shows "0" air pressure.  At zero air, the air brakes would be fully applied and the yellow air brake knob would pop out.  (It didn't).  Joan did a google search and found that several others who have "fixed" the problem have had a re-occurrence too.  Lucky for us the warning fault is not constant (the buzzer would drive us batty) but it comes and goes at random and again, just luck- it mostly stayed off for the next two days (mostly, there were a few notable exceptions).  If you want to read about the first repair click this link VDC fix 2013

Joan read a blog by a fellow RVer that described a route that mostly skirts around El Paso and we decided that was just the thing we needed.  Our last trip through, a little over a week ago was right through town and the freeway was under major construction.  The tri-cities of El Paso, Las Cruces, and Juarez are home to 2.7 million people and it's the largest bi-national workforce in the western hemisphere.  El Paso is also home to William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Briggs Army Airfield, and Fort Bliss.   This place is seriously busy.  Another interesting thing about El Paso is that the city is bisected by a mountain range.  The Franklin Mountains divide west from east in the northern part of the city.  There is an aerial tram that you can ride to the top of Ranger Peak.  One last thing to know about El Paso is that it is 3740 feet above seal level, nearly 2000 feet higher than Ajo, AZ where we spend most of the winter.

The by-pass worked well and was especially important because we were making our transit around the west side of El Paso right in the rush hour.  Shortly after re-joining I-10 north of El Paso, we turned off at Vado, NM where Joan had located a small RV park that would honor the Passsport members 1/2 price deal for the night.

Home for the night at Vado, NM

The Western Skies RV Park appeared to be a little "distressed" shall we say.  We were parked right next to a derelict truck crane, and if there ever was gravel on the roads, it has long since passed.  The roads were very dusty as were the RV spaces.  As careful as we could be, lot of that dust was carried into our bus.   A long day for us, and my head cold has taken it's toll on my stamina, after dinner it was not long before we were both in bed.  I-10 is so close, I am forced to put in my earplugs just to crowd out the sounds of passing cars and trucks.  The forecast says it should be just a degree or two above freezing tonight- thankful for that!

Tomorrow will be freeway all the way to Tucson where we will provision up before heading to Ajo on Thursday.

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dallas in December

Odometer 59519
Trip 295 miles

Joan and I had planned to stay at a local RV park while visiting her brother and family, however, we could never connect by phone with the RV park host and actually arrived in Dallas without having gotten a reservation.  This turned out to be good for us because Sally and Jim insisted we stay in their front yard.

Long time readers will recall that last time here, we nearly buried the bus up to the axles in mud attempting to get into this spot.  This year the ground was dry and hard and after a lot of pruning tree branches we slipped in and hooked up to the water and sewer connections from the mobile home that occupied this spot previously.

Our arrival, was timed to coincide with our niece's  graduation from The University of Texas at Dallas.  Savannah is graduating from the Jindal School of Management with a degree in Human Resources.  Even better, she has already landed a job with a large insurance firm as a Human Resources Analyst.
In the days before the ceremony, Jim kept me busy with projects.  I wanted to upgrade the electrical plug-in for the RV space from 20 amp to 30 amp so- I went to the hardware store and got what we needed.  Jim is considering an all electric car in the future, so he was also interested in a 220v outlet for that.  Jim and I had no trouble getting the outlets installed.  Joan was delighted that the power upgrade meant she could use the toaster and the coffeemaker at the same time!
proud parents with the new graduate
Jim and I also tackled removing and installing a new entry door in the garage- the existing one was rotting from the bottom up.  We had done some patching two years ago, but even the patches were falling out.  Jim and I got a replacement door and exterior molding, paint and a brush, and in no time we had a new door installed.

Sally is one of the greatest cooks we've ever met and we are going to leave Dallas a little heavier than we arrived.

Anytime Jim and I get together there has to be some great Scotch whisky involved.  Jim is a whisky aficionado and has built up a pretty good collection from which I am privileged to be able to sample.   Jim took a day off work, and between projects, he took Joan and me to a Goody Goody liquor store that had a particularly good stock of single malts and blends.  We both came away with more precious gold to taste.
We tasted and read up on 6 or 7 of our collective whiskies.  Jim showed me a clever app for your smart phone called Distiller.  The App has information on zillions of individual distilled spirits, including reviews, cost info, tasting notes, flavor profiles, and more.  Jim also surprised me with a hardcover copy of The World's Best Whiskies by Dominic Roskrow.  Nice!

Sally took the whole week off from work, so we tagged along with her when she ventured out on shopping errands.  On one such day we had finally decided that we (Joan and I) would use the opportunity to shop for new carpeting for the bedroom of the motorhome.  When we bought the bus in 2011, we replaced all the old flooring from the cockpit back to the bedroom with vinyl.  Now the carpet in the bedroom has to go.  Joan wanted more vinyl, I on the other hand, like the feel of carpet on my bare feet.  I also recognize that tufted carpet is hard to keep clean.  We decided to compromise and look at carpet tiles.  On our way to visit a carpet showroom we stopped at a dollar store and while perusing the aisles I spotted a stack of "cat rugs" on a lower shelf that looked just like carpet tiles.   Sure enough, closer inspection showed these to be 3-M brand carpet tiles for- you guessed it- a dollar each!  I started sorting the stack to get the same color tiles and found at least 20 beige tiles that I began laying out in the aisle.  Joan found me standing on my carpet of tiles grinning from ear-to-ear.
We left with our $20 new floor!  When we settle down for more than a few days, we'll get it installed.

A week fled past and all too soon it was time for us to head back to Arizona.  Jim and Sally always ask us to stay longer, but we prefer to leave while there is still some welcome left, rather than overstay.  Another determinate is that we have reservations at our winter home in Ajo, and many snowbirds head south right after Christmas- we need to beat the rush to get our favorite spot.

Saturday, the day before our launch, it started raining late in the afternoon.  At first it looked like a passing shower, then it turned into a fairly steady rain and lasted til midnight.  We were not sure if the wet ground would hold the weight of our bus and we'd be able to leave.  Sunday dawned grey and foggy!  I have a new route laid out for us today- we like to take a different route each time we come and go to Dallas.  This route takes us south and east to Terrell and then loosely follows state route 34 and 22 down to US 84 and eventually to US190 which will take us to I-10 into El Paso.

My desire to stay off the interstates as much as possible, means that it takes a little more time to get anywhere, and sometimes the frequent route changes are frustrating.  The line looks very linear on the map above, but what doesn't show is this is dozens of zigs and zags from one small road to another. 

One nice thing about this route is that we get to see a lot of very ornate county courthouses.  We snapped photos of the courthouses in Hillsboro, Meridian and Brady as examples.  
Meridian Texas
A little research reveals that Texas has 254 counties, (more than any other state) that means a lot of county courthouses like these complete with all the levels of administration that go along with county government.  It no doubt had to be like this in the early days, because of the sheer size of Texas and the limits of early transportation.

Today's needs are not well met with the old architecture, we noticed that most towns had annexes, but luckily the old buildings seem to be all well maintained- some even decorated for Christmas

Brady, TX

Hillsboro, TX

Bosque Bottoms RV Park Meridian, TX
I Started out the day feeling pretty chipper, but by noon I was feeling the grip of a cold or flu coming on.  Joan sensing my distress suggested a short day, and began searching for a campsite.  The Town of Meridian has a Passport park which meant 1/2 price overnight stay.  The GPS could not locate the entrance to the park and neither could we.  We found a gas station that had diesel but could not get into the pumps without having our car stick out into the street a bit.  The local sheriff waved us off and whelped his siren- so we cut back onto Main street all chastened, and looked for another station.
The next fuel stop was really grimy and the delivery truck was there delivering fuel- two bad omens, but I was tired and grouchy- so I filled anyway.  On our way to this second fuel stop we passed the entrance we'd been trying to find to the Bosque Bottoms RV. 

We didn't need reservations at Bosque Bottoms.

We were the ONLY RV in the park that evening.  We did our set-up and then bundled up in warm jackets and hats to take a quick walk around town

We spotted this mural on the wall of a downtown building and it got us to wondering, so we Googled up the trail back at the bus.  Turns out the Chisholm Trail (or one part of it) ran through this area.  The trail gets it's name from a Trader named Jesse Chisholm and was started as a wagon road for his trade goods going north to Abilene, Kansas.  Texas Cattlemen found the tracks and drove herds of cattle north along the same route.  Interestingly though, the trail started at the Texas-Oklahoma border (Red River) soon all parts of the connecting trails in Texas also adopted the same name..  By 1884, over 5 million cattle had been moved over the Chisholm Trail- the largest migration of livestock in world history.

Back at the bus, Joan got out all the cold remedies that we had in the cupboard and I doped up and fell asleep in the easy chair.

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ft Stockton to Brownwood

Odometer  59155
Trip meter  266

We have mapped out a route today that will keep us off the interstate, but still keep us heading in the right general direction towards Dallas. 

Today's Route

US Route 67 parallels I-20 in Texas

We crossed over into Central Time and in doing so lost an hour out of our day, which we are going to use as an excuse to sleep in and get a later than usual start today.  The overnight temps, as predicted stayed above freezing, so I didn't have the nightmare of freezing pipes I'd had the previous night.  Once we had unhooked the utilities and packed up the interior for travel, we headed out on I-10 east for a few miles before we got to the intersection of US 385/ US 67.
Long Straight Roads- mostly to ourselves!

US 67 turned out to be rather straight and fairly level for most of the trip.  It would seem to most readers that this could be another boring day in west Texas, but I didn't find that to be true.

Rolling countryside punctuated by small towns
US 67 becomes Main Street

The route is punctuated with at least 16 small towns and one fairly large town, San Angelo.
Most of the small towns were bisected by highway 67 and we got to tour down main street in each.  A few of the towns we saw seemed to be still vibrant and the shops, restaurants, bars, and gas stations were still open.  Sadly more of the towns looked to be struggling to make a go of it

Boarded up gas station 

Joan snapped the photo on the left as we rolled through the small town of McCamey.

It is a lot more interesting for us to see these brave and gritty small towns  from main street rather than speeding along the empty interstates.  And before you flame me, we come from a small and struggling town of 1200 residents on the Oregon coast- we feel the pain of not having jobs and industry, and a thriving downtown.  This is America on the back roads.

Oil drilling operations along US hwy 67

US 67 passes right through a corner the Permian basin, and this is still oil country, with tank farms and pump jacks, trucks hauling crude.

Pump Jack
Oil tank truck

Something that surprised us though was that this is also becoming an area where wind power is making a go of it too

Wind Turbines near Big Lake, TX
Quite often we saw wind turbines sharing space in the prairie with the pump jacks- that's covering all your bets!

Home for the Night at Riverside RV, Brownwood, TX

Our destination for today is Brownwood, and the Riverside RV Park, a Passport America affiliate, which means we get a healthy discount on the overnight cost, for a full hookup, pull through space.
The Park is very clean and the utilities are all in excellent shape.  There are only 24  spaces and they appear to fill up fast- we called ahead this morning for our space.  The park is on the edge of Pecan Bayou, and adjacent to a city park with paved walking trails along the bayou.
Tomorrow it's on to Wylie, Tx where we will be visiting Joan's brother's family, Jim, Sally, and daughter Savannah.  More later.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan