Friday, February 28, 2014

Bisbee, AZ

Odometer 37959
Trip Meter 0

Thursday February 27, 2014

We set out for the historic mining town of Bisbee Arizona this morning.  Easily one of our favorite towns in the West, we will always go out of our way to see it again.  

Bisbee is located on Arizona route 80 less than 10 miles from the Mexican border.  The town is the southernmost "mile high city" in the US at 5,538 feet.

The town is crowded into a series of narrow valleys with very steep hillsides all around, making buildable space a rare comodity.  The buildings that are here optiize the amount of land available

Roofs nearly touch, there are very few streets, tiny yards or no yards at all, lots of stairs and paths.

After the mine shut down in the seventies, artists adopted the area and began to congregate here.  Bisbee has many art galleries, gem and Jewely stores, and stores that sell whimsical creations of stone, metal, clay and glass.  This storefront is decorated with bottlecaps- each one carefully nailed into place by the artists hand.

Here is a minivan that has been decorated over every inch to reflect this artists concept of what is missing in Detroit's line-up.

The Lavender Pit Mine here in Bisbee, and the New Cornellia Mine in Ajo, were both owned by Phelps Dodge, and both converted from a tunneling mine to open pit.

The Bisbee area was a collection of small towns, of which Bisbee is the main survivor.  Just on the south edge of the large pit is the remnants of the town of Lowell.  The whole town of Lowell was purchased by the mine in the early 1900s and much of the town was leveled to make way for the mine.  All that is left of Lowell is this one street where the buildings are mostly empty, but many are decked out in period furnishings- at least what you can see from the street.  The nearby town of Warren was also purchased by the mine and incorporated into the town of Bisbee.  Warren survived and has re-asserted it's own personality of late.  

Joan and I decided to have lunch at one of Bisbee's famous landmarks the Copper Queen Hotel in Old Downtown.

They have a very nice dining area on the patio in front of the hotel, the food was delicious.

We hiked up several of the narrow streets taking pictures left and right.  We marveled at the creativity and tenacity of these residents.  Many of the houses litterally cling to the hillsides.

Rock and concrete walls serve to hold everything together- and forget about parking- the space is too valuable, a house with a carport or garage is a very valuable comodity.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Fort Huachuca, AZ

Odometer 37959
Trip Meter 0

Wednesday  February 26, 2014

Fort Huachuca was for 20 years the home base for the Buffalo Soldiers.  Beginning in 1913 the 10th Cavalry Regiment defended the border, fought natives, and protected the wagon roads of the southwest.  During the build-up to WWII the fort had more than 25,000 men.  Now the HQ of NETCOM/9th Signal Command and the Army Intelligence Center, the fort can still have a transient population of 18,000 persons during the day.  The installation is a major training center for Military Intelligence, as well as providing Command Control, Communications, and Computer support wordwide, for a full range of military operations.  This command used to have the responsibility for unmaned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by the army, but that mission was moved in 2006 to the Aviation Branch at Fort Rucker.

The fort has museums in three historic buildings on the post.  The museum is free and well worth the price!

This building was the theater on the historic old fort and has been converted into a museum that showcases the dress, armorment, and transportation systems in use back in the 17 and 1800s.

This is Brown Parade Field with officer and enlisted housing on two sides.  The parade field is still very much as it used to be back in the early days when it was first established. in 1887  The houses, though 
fixed up inside and out appear to be circa WWII.

The building that housed the Museum of Military Intelligence was closed during our visit and we have decided we will definitely go back to see it later in the month.

This fort has had important roles in training and support for the "Indian" wars, border protection, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

An old Army description of the fort states:
"It is the only fort in the Continetal United States where you can be Absent With Out Leave (AWOL) for three days and they can still see you leaving."

Tomorrow we plan to visit the historic mining town of Bisbee, south of here on AZ hwy 80.

Your Traveing Friends

Jeff and Joan

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On The Move Again

Odometer 37959
Trip Meter 212 miles

Monday February 24, 2014

We were up early and busy getting ready to go mobile again after sitting in one spot for nearly 3 months.  It's amazing how many things get taken out of their cupboards and placed around the environs of the motorhome when you aren't worried about going anywhere soon.  To be honest we really did most of the packing up yesterday, and this morning it was more like putting away the toaster and the coffee maker after breakfast, and getting the bungies on the doors and drawers that are know to disgorge their contents during cornering or speed bumps and driveway approaches taken at an angle. Our goal was to be hitched and ready to leave by 9 AM and then to have said all our goodbyes and be on the road by 9:30.  Our driving factor was a  selfish one- we wanted to be in Sells, AZ in time to have lunch at the Desert Rain Cafe again.

We had a very good start, meaning we didn't  hit anything, nothing hit us, the engine ran like a top, and the car stayed hitched up and we didn't forget to take the car out of gear or leave the hand brake on- Whew!
Driving down Arizona route 85 south we took a left turn on AZ route 86 at the "town" of Why which got us headed east.  A good bit of AZ 86 cuts through the center of the Thono O' odham Nation, a parcel of land that occupies parts of three Arizona counties and 4,453 square miles, the third largest reservation in the US.

We made it to Sells, AZ in the heart of the Tohono O' odham nation, at 11:30 and found a place to park the motorhome in the service entrance to the shopping center where the Desert Rain Cafe is.  Jeff ordered a squash enchilada, with tepary beans and spinach salad, while Joan ordered the cholla bud salad.  Both were delicious and we topped it off with a mesquite oatmeal raisin cookie- yeah!
As we continued east from Sells we started getting glimpses of Kitt Peak, the mountain top famous for the National Observatory and the many telescopes on top.  Kitt Peak is entirely on the Tohono O' odham Nation and the observatory grounds are leased from the Nation.  Joan and I visited the Observatory last year, so we cruise on by the entrance road on our way east.

Our route took us close to Tucson and the traffic began to build, but all lanes continued to flow, allowing us to slip Tucson's grasp and head south and east on Interstate 10 to Benson where we exited the freeway for Arizona Highway 90 which would take us South to Huachuca City and Sierra Vista.
We looked at our first choice Quail Ridge RV Park in Huachuca City and decided to push on to Vista View RV Resort 14 miles further south in Sierra Vista to compare.  Vista View turned out to be very frustrating.  First, we could see the RV park from the road, but there were locked gates on the entrance driveway with a keypad, so we drove to the next driveway, and again, keypad locked gates, finally several blocks further on we came to an unlocked gate into a community of site-built homes.  The driveway was a very narrow drive with a concrete barrier between the lanes.  No signs anywhere, so we drove on in, and turned back towards where we knew the RVs were- winding our way through blocks of vacation homes.  When we got to the RVs we could now see a physical barrier between where we were and the park.  We did find one very narrow opening between the dumpster and an adjacent block wall and we just went for it.  Finally- we had arrived!  Now we could not find an office or a camp host, so we called the number of the RV park listed in our park guide- no answer...  Soo we looked around till we found an RVer who would clue us in.  The office was back where we had come in- carefully disguised as a clubhouse.  So we walked back 5 blocks down and two over until we found the office.  The sign on the door said open 8AM to 4PM, and at 3 PM the door was inexplicably locked- no note of explanation.
We walked back 5 blocks down and two over and look to see what sites are available.  There are none in the section we want with concrete patios and wide spaces, and only one left in the all-gravel narrow spaces- so we move in and do a hasty set-up (no jack pads, no sewer) in case someone shows up and kicks us out.
We took off in the car to get some groceries ( a fellow RVer who took pity on us gave us the gate code) (thanks Lou!) and by the time we return it's dinner time, so we cook dinner watch the news on the TV (no cable, but a couple over the air stations), take a long walk and turn in for the night.
The next morning we go to the office again and it's open!  Yeaa!  Well not quite- too early for this ordeal to end.  The park attendant is gone and there is a note that she has gone to buy craft supplies.  No idea when she left or when she will return, so we write a note telling her we are in space 24 and are interested in staying longer- give us a call.  We walk back to the motorhome, and as we are climbing the stairs- the park attendant calls- she has just returned to the office.  Soo back we go.  5 blocks down and 2 over, to the clubhouse/RV park office, where we are informed that there are not going to be any vacancies in the part of the park we wanted to be, in the foreseeable future.  We paid for the night ( a reasonable $23) and head back to load up and drive back to our number one destination- Quail Ridge RV Resort in Huachuca City.  We left the car un-hooked so I could better maneuver into Frey's (Fred Meyers- Kroger clone) gas station.  Good thing too, because after fueling Joan has to guide me as I back the motorhome out of the pumps- unable to pull on through to get out.  (Diesel was $3.69 so I guess it was worth it)  Could have paid ten cents more per gallon at Loves Truck Stop and been treated like dirt on their heel.
Back at Quail Ridge, there are plenty of spaces open and we choose a very nice wide space on the end of a row that has a tree.  However, unlike Ajo, the trees here are decidiuous and have lost all their leaves, giving this place a bleak and wintry look.

We are in a good place to get out and explore this area.  We are at the junction of highway 90 (north/south) and highway 82 (east/ west).  90 south will take us to the town of Bisbee which is a must see for us- we've been there 3-4 times in the past, and it is such a fascinating town- we'll go everytime we are in the area.  82 will take us west to Sonoita, AZ, and down to Patagonia, where we hope to meet Marla and Kermit very soon.  82 east will take us to Tombstone.  90 north will take us to Karchner Caverns State Park.  Now all we have to do is get used to highway noise again as hwy 82 is very busy and carries a lot of truck traffic.  Ajo has spoiled us for quiet nights.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Farewell to Ajo

Odometer 37747
Trip Meter  0 miles

Sunday February 23, 2014

Yep! you are not halucinating- the bus hasn't actually moved  since arriving in Ajo on December 8th.
Joan and I wern't sure we would remember how to set up for travel after sitting in one place for so long.  We started today putting away all the clutter that collects when one has time to stay and relax- the folding chairs, the chaise lounges, the side tables, all the deployed awnings, lowering antennas, stowing our rock collection and our saguaro staves, etc, etc.. Our plan is to leave Ajo in the morning and head east toward Tucson.

We have been seeing Ajo lilly plants that grow in the desert here for months now- I'm glad I finally got to see them bloom before we left.

Some of the trees in the hills and in town have also begun to bloom, like this Sweet Acacia.

I've been seeing a lot of these "dead" bushes in the desert since getting to Ajo and on most of my walks in the desert...

Imagine my surprise at seeing this- the "dead" brush seeming to come alive- greening up like it was no big deal!

By 3 PM I wanted to get out and stretch my legs- Joan just wanted to rest, so I struck off to hike up Camelback Mountain which looms above the RV park.  Camelback forms a backdrop to the town and  the large letter "A" formed out of white rocks sits on it's flank.

I didn't set out to climb all the way to the top (there is no "trail" to the top)  but I did want to climb to the antenna grouping on a ridgetop about 2/3 the way up.  There is a gravel road to the antennas that is gated at the bottom, but I figured I coud hike up and intersect it on the ridge above our RV park.

Once I get to the antennas (TV, Cell, phone) I decide to go even higher.    Mt A is part of the Little Ajo Mountains- the Ajo Mountain Range is further south in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but at 2500 feet this one is still a challenge.  (Ajo is at 1740 feet).  Even though there is no trail, per se, it is not terribly hard to pick your way up the ridges and around the larger rock outcroppings.

In my blog from November of last year I chronicled my climb to the top of Camelback and told the story of the 30 foot high, concrete cross that is erected there in homor of a much beloved mine manager, John C. Greenway.

From my vantage point high on the ridge I took some photos of the town below.  It's a great way to say good bye to our winter haven in SW Arizona and hello to new adventures awaiting.

Tomorrow we will head across AZ 86 towards Tucson, and then duck to the south to Huachuca City (pronounced Wa-chuka) or to Sierra Vista.

Ajo gives us a beautiful send-off with this pretty sunset.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Ajo Miden

Odometer 37747
Trip Meter 0

Saturday February 22, 2014

Odd name for the blog, but I got to thinking- the latest trip out into the desert with Mark, in our search for the wreck site of two downed AT-6C airplanes- we found tons of trash.  Today's search was near the Ajo airport (the former Ajo Gunnery Base) as the aircraft collided in mid-air while flying the pattern to land at the airport.

In fairness, things decompose very slowly in the warm, dry desert- but holy cow! -there are dumps everywhere!

About every 100 feet we would see another heap of old metal cans, glass bottles, appliances and bed springs- lots of bed springs.

We have our eyes tuned to the unusual, and that's how we found this item, partially buried in a small arroyo.

Anybody have an idea what this may have been?  The body is a tapered metal tank, with lifting or carrying handles on top edges and a pivoting "D" handle on one bottom edge.  It has an oval formed opening in the top that at one time had a flip over metal cover.  A long brass tube about 1" in diameter runs down through the top of the container to just above the bottom inside the tank and a brass barbed tee extends out from the riser on the outside top of the tank.  Mark and I guess that it was an oil dispenser that had a pump handle and a hose on it at one time.  Not sure if it is aircraft related or not.  We have heard stories that when the military gave the airport over for civilian use, many of the supplies that the military did not want to ship back to the quartermaster were buried in the desert nearby...

We also found lots of car body parts.  Here is a series of finds starting with a fender-

Continuing to a rear quarter panel...

and including some of the back window and roof.  There is an explanation for this that was made clear very shortly.

The seach area we had chosen was close to or even possibly- IN the 10 Mile Wash.  This is a drainage arroyo that is more than 100 feet across- so large that it is identified on all the local maps and even is named.  I cannot even imagine what this raging river looks like when flooded!

There are dikes on either side of the wash to keep the flow from damaging the nearby properties, and in that dike, are lots of old car bodies to keep the erosion under control.  The cars are usually chopped into large chunks and partially buried in the dikes.  During a flood event, pieces do get carried off- and that's what Mark and I had been finding.

Do you suppose that these are the pot shards that a future archeologist will uncover to form opinions about what 20th century man was up to?

Like it or not, this is our legacy.

We did not find any definitive signs of the two aircraft that we were seeking.  No-one knows (or is telling) if anything exists to be found, but we remain convinced that the clues are out here somewhere.
Meanwhile it is a good excuse to get out and hike in the countryside, and enjoy each other's company.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bandeja Well

Odometer. 37747
Trip meter 0

Sunday February 16, 2014

There is a very small mountain range about 8 miles south of Ajo, AZ that is named John the Baptist Mountains.  

The range is about 3 miles long and about a mile wide at it's widest.  The interesting thing about this range is the person for whom it is named.  The range is named for John C Butala, a veteran of the Spanish American War and WWI.  Mr Butala was a hermit who lived at the base of the mountains on the east side.  His usual dress was a gunney sack loin cloth and sandals.  His long dark hair, gaunt, sun bronzed look, and his spartan way of life, caused people of the day to refer to him as John the Baptist.  John was also a very talented mechanical engineer- to the extent that he was often hauled into Ajo to help fix heavy equipment and machinery at the New Cornelia Mine.

Mark Lankford, Joan and I toured the area that used to be home to this interesting hermit.  

Sadly there is very little left, save an old hand dug well, and the remnants of an outbuilding containing old hives such as a bee-keeper would use.  The wooden boxes and frames were mostly falling apart.

We did find a few frames with the wax foundation still on them.

Mark drove us further south on the jeep road that had brought us here, heading to Lime Mountain and the Bandeja Well.

Bandaja in Spanish means "tray".  The reason for the name is lost to history.  This was most probably one of the ranches owned and run by members of the Gray family as they owned nearly every well and ranch in this area.  

The wind pump was running during our  exploration of the area, and although the pump rod was moving up and down with the wind- no water ever came out of the pipe in the trough, leading us to believe that either the water level had receded below the pump or the leathers (seals on the pump) were worn out.  The trough still had some water in it, but it looked to be quite old and stagnant.

Could this be the house or line shack they used?  It is pretty small, one room, but it did have running water piped in from the elevated tank.

Most of the corrals in this area were built using railroad ties that had been discarded by the railroad (they had the spike holes and depressions of track plates in them) so we were very pleased to see an older section of fence built of desert salvaged wood.

The gates were mostly metal, and there was a metal shop on the ranch that was larger by far than the house and still in fairly good repair- well, if you didn't count the lack of a roof that is.

Someone has taken the time to lash some spare parts for the wind pump to the side of the shop for safe-keeping.

We very much enjoyed our visit to the Bandeja Ranch, and the glimpse back in time that it allowed us.  The ranches in this area disappeared between 1972 and 1976 some 37 or more years ago, after losing much of their acreage to the Organ Pipe National Monument, the Cabeza Prietta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Gunnery Ranges.  Climate change, and over grazing played a hand in their demise as well.

Don't tell these little flowers though, they are showing their hardiness and adaptability.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Friday, February 14, 2014

Alamo Canyon

Odometer  37747
Trip 0

Monday February 10, 2014

For being out in the desert an hour and a half or more from the nearest big city there sure seems to be a lot to do around here.  Today Joan and I decided to take a hike out to Alamo Canyon, after hearing from several of our fellow RVers about how beautiful it is.

Alamo Canyon is ~15 miles south of Ajo down AZ highway 85 towards the Mexican border at Lukeville.

Alamo Canyon is on the Organ Pipe National Monument.
Organ Pipe NM is a 330,688 acre reserve along the south western border of Arizona and Mexico, created in 1937 by President F.D. Rossevelt after the land was donated to the US goverment by the Arizona legislature.
There is no well marked junction with signs indicating Alamo Canyon.  You have to watch for Alamo Wash and turn on the road just north of where the wash crosses under highway 85.  The gravel entrance road is well graded and takes you into a primitive campground.
Along side the road about a mile in, is this familiar structure.  We first reported on one of these when Joan and I drove out to Charlie Bell Gap, 18 miles west of Ajo on Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.  It is an aid station with an emergency call button that will summon help for those in need.  The beacons are established and maintained by the US Customs and Border Patrol to address the rising numbers of exposure related deaths among migrants crossing illegally into the US.
The road ends at a  this campground (no facilities except a pit toilet and recyling bins).  This is a fee area, but thanks to Jeff's Senior Pass (formerly the Golden Age Pass) we get in free!
The trail into the canyon is only about a mile long, and is fairly flat and easy hiking.
We spoke of the wildflower blooms in our last blog, and we saw even more of that today.  The Sonoran desert differs substantially from the other three western deserts in that the Sonoran gets rain in the summer and the winter months, rather than just the winter as is the case for the Mojave, the Chihuahuan, and the Great Basin deserts.  That makes this a very lush desert by comparison.
There were many bunches of these Plains Blackfoot Daisys
And Desert Penstemon
Jeff stands in the door way of the former Gray Family Ranch line shack.

Even the Creosote brush was blooming with showy yellow blossoms. 

The trail wound up to the remains of a brick house.  Placed in the narrowest part of the canyon it stood as a protectorate of the wide basin beyond that was at one time used to corral cattle.  The home was small in size, but very sturdy, made of  6"x 4"x 18" adobe brick, on a poured concrete slab floor.  Put on a new roof, a couple doors and windows, and you could live in it again.  There were other slabs in the same area but no indication of the types of buildings that once stood there.
The wash was only about 100 feet from the cabin, and even now still has pockets of  seeping water in the gravelly bottom.  (no rain here since early December)
Jeff checks out one of many "grind holes" in the rock next to the Alamo Wash.

We found several areas in the larger rock where early inhabitants may have used a "mano" to grind nuts, seeds, or grains in a natural hole or "metate". (aka  mortar and pestle)

We took many photos of the surrounding canyon walls, but they lose perspective when flattened out on the computer screen.
In real life these imposing canyon walls were very impressive- very close and rising hundreds of feet over head!
Joan and I found a nice shady place to stop and have a picnic lunch

Further up the canyon the gate to the corral stands open, allowing entry  into the stock pens, which look very much like an inviting meadow

In one corner of the corral is a large concrete and stone watering trough.

The walls in this picture are the sides of a huge water tank.  The tank had a roof over it at one time and the wind pump that kept it full was located on a concrete foundation in the bottom of the adjacent wash. 
A very large storm in 2009 dumped 15" of rain in this canyon and the raging torrent of water in the wash destroyed what was left of the wind pump.  The 2009 storms created enough water to carry large boulders 2 miles down the wash and burried highway 85, closing it for weeks.

The fences in Alamo Canyon had to have been constructed with back breaking labor.  Many of the posts were treated 6x6 railroad ties dug into the stony ground and the rails appear to have been 2x6 lumber.

After lunch and several exploratory hikes in the vicinity we returned back down the canyon to the little ranch house and said our goodbyes to this beautiful place.

The hike back to the campground gave us time to consider what an ambitious undertaking this would have been for a ranching family in the early1900s.  The Grays moved here in 1913 and ranched with their 7 children, four daughters and three sons.  The main ranch house was at Dos Lomitas near the Mexican border.  As the children got older, they helped establish as many as 15 line camps like this one in Alamo Canyon.  Grazing cattle in the desert was tough, it was estimated that each cow needed a square mile of land to feed it, and the Gray family grazed over a 1000 head in their best years.  Many of the roads and tracks seen in the desert today are remnants of early truck roads and cattle trails, wandering from one water hole, or well to another. The last of the grazing permits expired in 1972, and when Organ Pipe was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, the cattle had been gone for 4 years.

What a beautiful setting!

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan