Thursday, January 30, 2014

Desert Rain

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Thursday January 30, 2014

I continue to enjoy hiking in the Sonoran, even though the last several trips have either been more for fun than for searching for military aircraft wreck sites.  

On a trip to Childs Valley last Monday we did find this interesting device.  The shaft is hollow and about 7 feet long, the sheet metal is not attached to the shaft, but does surround it.
The shaft has several of these square brackets riveted on at 18" intervals, and one end has a heavy sleeve on it and the other end has a round 1/4" thick "washer" attached to it.  
We wonder if it was part of a aerial tow target, but there isn't enough to go on.

Mark also showed me what might have been an observation post in the Crater Range north of Ajo.
Mark found a light gauge twisted pair of wire several years ago and followed it to a high bluff that overlooks the southern gunnery range.  The reel shown here is used as a junction point- there is a set of posts with knurled nuts on the side where the next reel of wire attaches and extends out.
Mark also showed me pieces of polycarbonate plastic that are from the canopy of an F-16 crash that I have blogged about earlier.  The crash site is about 2 miles away.
I looked over the bigger of the pieces, then carefully replaced it, for the next explorer to find.
I got to see my first Tarantula spider of this winter season, on this hill.  The spider was about the size of a walnut, and had a leg spread of about 4".  I really wanted to get a photo of it, but before I could get my phone out to take the picture it crawled into a gap between two large boulders and wouldn't show itself again.  Tarantulas are not dangerous to humans and many are kept as pets.

Today (Thursday Jan 30th)

Joan, our neighbor Barb, and I have been wanting to go to the Desert Rain Cafe, ever since we saw one of their menus posted at an RV park near here.  
The Desert Rain Cafe is in Sells, Arizona which is 73 miles south and east of Ajo on the Tohono O'odham  Nation.  The Cafe is a non-profit started to increase awareness and help persuade Native Americans to change their diet and begin eating more of their traditional and healthy foods.  
Each dish contains at least one traditional Tohono O'odham food, such as cholla bud, tepary beans or saguaro fruit syrup.

Cholla buds

The Tohono O'odham people are locked in a battle with diabetes.  The percentage of diabetics in the tribe is an astonishing 75%.  The Cafe is part of a social program to help change their diet.  Luckily it is open to the general public also, because their food is awesome!
Joan and Barb had the Prickly Pear Glazed Pork Ribs, with a side salad, brown Tepary Beans, and a whole wheat tortilla.  Jeff had Cholla Bud Citrus Salad, which includes jicama, cholla buds, pineapple with chicken on a bed of spinach leaves.  we shared an appetizer of the Desert Rain Sampler - Desert Hummus, Cholla Pico de Gallo and Tepary Bean Dip.  Delicious.

The trip over to Sells and back was so worth this!  

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The San Antonio Mine

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Tuesday 28, 2014

Joan and I have been hearing about an old mica mine in the hills near Ajo, and we were determined to see it for ourselves.  By 9:30 this morning we had loaded the car with our day pack which contains, survival gear, a first aid kit, our lunch for today, our binoculars, and some snacks, if we have to spend the night.  The mine is about 10 miles south and west of town, however you cannot drive all the way.  The last 2 plus miles the road is gated and it's foot traffic only as you enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (CPNWR)
The hike is an easy one following the old road in, which can now only be used by CPNWR vehicles and, of course, the Border Patrol.  We see one group of hikers leaving as we arrive, and we have the trail all to ourselves!
Soon the road is also the wash (dry steam bed), but the going is still very easy.   

A very substantial metal sign announces that we are getting close

A few minutes later we get our first glimpse of the mine.  The hill is covered by white quartz rock and is gleaming in the distance.
As we get closer- we see something that looks very out of place out here in the desert.

It's a house- one that looks like it was picked up from a residential neighborhood and plopped down in the middle of nowhere.  As we summited the ridge we had arrived.

The mine was literally  the back yard of the house.  I took some pictures in the house but I decided not to publish but one- they were pretty gross.  The rats and bats had shall we say "decorated" the floors and walls.
This little bat was hanging from the wires that had once held a ceiling light, and didn't mind posing for me.  The house had all the amenities in it's day- 2 bedroom, one bath, running water and electricity.

Back outside I zeroed in on a TD-6 dozer that was left when the mine shut down.

Amazingly It looked like a few new seals and hoses and some fresh diesel and it could be mining again- Kidding!
Joan and I had a great time imagining how all this stuff worked to separate the mica from the white quartz.  We think we recognized Todd Hoffman's trommel from the Gold Rush Show.

Hmm.  Jeff couldn't quit looking at the makeshift ladder- once a safetyguy, always a safetyguy.

We took several photos of the mica seams and the mica flakes on the ground, however they don't have the flash and fire in the photos that was there in real life.  The whole place looked like a diamond mine with the silver flash from all the mica glinting in the sun.

We found a shady spot in one of the mine cuts, to sit and have our gourmet lunch of ham sandwiches, apples, Cheezits and red licorice.  Mmmm!  

I looks like the mine must have been a family operation, we saw obvious signs of children who once played here as mom and dad eked out a living in the mine.
A little more exploring and we were ready to start the journey back to the car.

We found this interesting saguaro cactus on our way back to the gate and our car.  According to our phone GPS we'd walked nearly 6 miles- a beautiful day.

Yesterday Mark and I attended a meeting of the Ajo Samaritans, a group of concerned individuals who are working to eliminate the agonizing deaths that are occurring to the emigrants who choose to cross the border and trek through the Arizona deserts to the promise of freedom and the land of riches. The Samaritans were interested in hearing about the human remains we'd found last week.  The Samaritans look for migrant trails and leave supplies to help ensure no one will perish for lack of food and water.  They told Mark and me that the Cabeza Prieta and the Gunnery Range both specifically prohibit leaving any supplies on land administered by them, the BLM is more tolerant.   Samaritans has close ties to another group that calls them selves No Mas Muertes or No more Deaths.  That group has the backing of several churches and even supports a field hospital in the desert between Nogales and Tucson.  You can read more about them at:

The whole question of legality, morality can consume more than this blog, but we can all agree what we have isn't working very well.  We fortify the border for all but the most hazardous routes and we sit back and do little as 500 to 1000 human beings die of thirst, hunger, hypo- hyperthermia, and sheer exhaustion in the Sonoran desert each year. 

President Obama is calling for immigration reform this year- let's hope Congress is listening.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Childs Mountain

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Saturday January 25th 2014

Wow!, I can't believe it's the end of January already.  Joan and I are really enjoying our extended summer here in Ajo, AZ.  We have to be careful when talking to our friends up north, that we don't sound too enthusiastic, lest they hang up on us.

A couple weeks ago we signed up at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge headquarters to take a tour to the top of Childs Mountain seen in the picture below.  The road used to serve an active US Air Force installation and is still off limits by car outside of this tour.

I really wanted this picture to show the great imposing height of the mountain that forms the western backdrop to our little town here in the desert- however I wasn't able to get the look I wanted- so you'll have to take my word for it.  The peak is 2846 feet high and is the tallest thing arounnd for many miles.
The "tour" is a procession of cars that follows a guide vehicle up the mountain and through a gate that is normally locked.  The road is- or was at one time paved, it's current condition is very pot-holed with some sections reduced to gravel.

Vehicles wait at the gate to Childs Mountain Air Force Station.  Ajo, AZ

The trip to the top takes about a half hour and the views on the way up are spectacular.
Once at the top, there is a road that runs along the ridge top, that is in places only wide enough to support the road.

We stopped in a wide area at the top, and walked to an overlook area where our guide gave us a  short history of the installation.
Visitors overlook at Childs Mountain.

The Air Station was built here starting in 1956 and finishing in 1958 as part the North American early warning defense system, designed to detect Soviet long range bombers.  The Ajo Station became obsolete soon after it was built and by 1971 all operations here had ceased.  In 1972 all the buildings were removed and the antennas that were left were fully automated.

A solitary radar dome is all that is left of the Childs Mountain Air Force Station

The town of Ajo looks tiny in the distance as seen from the top of the mountain

The timing of the tour was deliberate- they started us off at the gate at 4 PM and suggested that we stay through sunset.  With the sun still bright when we arrived at the top, we all headed in different directions, snapping photos of the desert plants, the high rocky precipices, and the valley below

A grouping of radio and cell towers anchor the oposite end of the high ridge from the radome.

Opposite the overlook was a second obervation area that had a display that explains the markings on the desert floor below.  The Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range (BMGR) is a military reserve used to train F-16 and A-10 pilots.  The range below us had earth berms in the design shown in the display board above.   The pilots hits and misses are scored by personnel in range towers at opposite sides of the diamond design.  At times the skies above Ajo shudder with the roar of F-16s or A-10s dogfighting and practicing strafing and bombing runs.

Mark Lankford and Joan take in the sunset at the overlook

The sun descended in a beautiful sunset over the Growler mountain range, throwing the valley below into shadow.

Joan and Barb Cowger take in he last glow of the setting sun.  As the skies darkened, the tour guide gathered us all up for the return trip to the valley floor. The perfect end to a fun trip.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

desert ops

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Thursday Jan 23, 2014

Over the last several weeks I (Jeff) has been taking hikes out in the desert around Ajo.  There are three public entities that manage most of the area around here.  The BMGR (Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range) I have spoken about in earlier posts, the Cabeza Prietta Wildlife Refuge, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

A couple weeks ago I found this vertical mine shaft in the hills south of town.  Probably would not have found it but for the bright white warning signs that were visible for hundreds of feet.  

Later in the week Joan and I drove about 6 miles south on Ajo Well Road to see the place where the mining company drilled the water wells that served the mine and still serve the town. These wells tap into an aquifer that delivered up to 13 million gallons of water daily in the hey day of the mining.  

The first well was hand dug 3'9" by 4'6" at the rate of 4-1/2 feet a day.  The finished depth of the well was 645 feet.  In the 8 decades that these wells have been producing, there has been no significant drop in the water level.

Near the wells is the municipal airport that serves Ajo.  The Airport used to be the Ajo Gunnery Base back in the 40's and was one of many near here used to train fighter pilots.

Today the airport is rather under used...  here is a photo of the ramp office.

Today (Thursday) Jeff and his fellow desert trekker Mark Lankford, drove out towards Charlie Bell Gap on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (CPNWR) looking for the remains of an AT-6 Texan aircraft that went down in the early 40's while towing an aerial target.  We set out to search an area that was 1.5 miles north of the road.  No off-roading in the CPNWR meant that we would hike in to the search area.  Today we walked a total of 6 miles in our search grid and while we did not turn up any aricraft, we did make one unsettling discovery.

Mark found this human skull about 2 miles away from the road.

We found much of the skeletal remains within a small search area.  It appears that animals have scattered the remains.  Mark was surprised, but he found that his cell phone had a weak signal,  and he used it to place a call to the CBNWR and report the find. During our search of the area we turned up a belt buckle, an atheletic shoe and a sweatshirt.  In a huge stoke of luck I found a Mexican voter registration card in a rocky area about 100 feet away.  We can't know positively that the card belongs to these remains but if it does the individual was a Mexican male between 20 and 24 years old.  I will not give any more information on this blog, because we don't want the familia to find out about their loved one this way.  Mark has turned over the information to the US authorities and will deliver the Voter card when the offices open tomorrow morning.

According to an Article published in the New York Times on May 20, 2013 by Fernanda Santos and Rebekah Zemansky, the remains of 465 humans were found in the desert last year.  One problem is that identity cards that illegals carry with them are many times conterfeit documents used to allow them to move through Mexico.

Paste this link into your browser to see the whole article.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mexico Again

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Thursday Jan 16, 2014

Our good friends Jim and Sara arrived from Grants Pass, via Glendale,AZ where Jim has been safety training, and they were both visiting Jim's cousins. They traveled by car so when they arrived here in Ajo, they stayed in a cabin at La Siesta Motel and RV park.
We had fun touring the museum and plaza, driving the scenic loop roads and such.  Joan and I wanted to convey the essence of the area to our friends and see if they would understand what it is we like about Ajo. As nice a place as this is we would run out of things to do pretty quickly- so we decided to take another quick day trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico!

This trip was going to be more fun for Joan and me, because we could be a little more relaxed, and we already knew our way around.  We stopped at the cool tourist shops we saw but didn't visit last time.
Trouble is this shop is closed and the sign said it was for rent- oh well there's still Rodeo Drive- yep, that's their name for it.
Lots of open shops here- and we saw quite a few- if not all of them.  Joan bought a wind chime from one vendor that is made entirely of local shells.  We got to watch as one was being made on site by the proprietress. 

It was 1:00 by the time we were shopped out- and we were getting hungry.  Last visit a fellow RVer we talked with gave us some suggestions for the local restaurants, and we found the Hut right where he said it would be.

The weather was fabulous, so we opted to eat out on the patio.
The food was indeed very good.  I really enjoyed the fish and prawns I ordered.  Jim, Sara and Joan all agreed it was a good tip. Full and happy, we headed for the beach.  We all wanted to get a chance to do some walking and wading in the clear blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.
To our great delight, the water was warm and the sand was soft under our feet.  To our great alarm- there was lots of broken glass to avoid.  Jeff and Joan both picked up hand fulls fo glass shards while strolling down the beach- praying we wouldn't step on any jagged, half-buried bits that we couldn't see.  Even the glass couldn't spoil the great time we had talking, wading and picking out shells in the light surf.
Jim and Sara

At around 3 PM we reluctantly decided that it was time to head back north. The two hour trip was uneventful, and the border crossing went smoothly, we were back at our motorhome by 5 PM.  
Sara and Joan whipped up a light dinner, and we talked through the evening.

Jim and Sara were leaving Friday morning heading north so we all agreed to meet at Marcella's Restaurant up the street and have a bon voyage breakfast.

Never a dull moment!

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ajo Plaza and Curley School

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Saturday 1/11/2014

Every second Saturday of the month a volunteer group called The Friends of the Plaza, gives tours of the Plaza and the Curley School.  At first, Joan and I were thinking nah!- but then we thought -yeah!- why not?- it could be interesting, and we would know a little more about our chosen winter haven.
Our tour guide Hope, is a winter transplant the same as we are.  She got involved because she was intrigued by the history and wanted to share it with others.  Ajo is quite unique in that it is a city that was master planned by the mining company, in a time when there were no outside regulations. The idea behind the the town was to make it a place that was family friendly.  The owners of the mine were smart enough to realize that happy family meant a stable work force.
The plaza and school were built in 1917 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.  The buildings were well maintained over the years until the mine shut down in 1985.  Phelps Dodge, the owners of the mine, decided to sell off the company housing, the plaza and school.  Luckily the plaza and school were eventually purchased by the International Sonoran Desert Association (ISDA) and with grants and community support the buildings and infrastructure have been maintained and in some cases improved.  In the plaza we saw inside the old Oasis Theater that is boarded up and inactive now.  Plans are in motion to renovate this and bring plays and movies back to town.  

Next we moved up the street from the plaza to the old community school building
The Curley School was named for the mine Supervisor at the time, Mike Curley.
When ISDA finally got ownership of the school the roof was in very bad shape and the walls were peeling, windows broken. Today the roofs are all new, the stucco is all patched and painted, the windows glazed- it is in awesome condition.  Because there is a new- more modern school across town, and to make the old school self supporting, the interior was renovated into apartments.  To help make the town self supporting the apartments were rented to low-income artists in an effort to put Ajo on the map as an artist haven, and a center for art.
The multi-purpose room in the center of the school has been renovated and is available for community events.
Everywhere throughout the campus, we saw expressions of art- this mural was 100 feet long.

The School went through several changes over the years.  It started out as all grades taught in the same building, then as the class sizes got larger the school expanded into two more buildings on the same campus.

One addition housed the middle school-
and the second became the elementary school (below).
As you can see here the play ground has been turned into a community garden space.  The elementary school building shown above is the last to be renovated.  The roof has been refurbished and now workers are going through the classrooms one by one.  This area will become part of a proposed convention center, adding another draw to this small desert town.

Several other buildings on campus have been utilized- one as a pottery studio complete with throwing wheels, extruding dies, and several kilns.  In the other end of the same building is a community wood shop, that has a table saw, band saw, planer, jointer, miter saw, sturdy project tables, and numerous hand tools.  There is also a separate gymnasium building that has just been renovated and is owned by Pima County.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan