Thursday, February 28, 2013

Discovering Arizona

We enjoyed our time in Tucson, especially the Tucson Mountain Park. The city of Tucson set aside about 20,000 acres for the park and the National Park Service added about the same when it created the Saguaro National Park adjacent to it. Early the first morning, we joined a guided walk hosted by a park volunteer. He taught us the names of the different plants we were seeing and how they have adapted to this harsh environment. It really opened our minds to understand this beautiful forest we were experiencing. The next day, we hiked the six mile Brown Mountain Trail. It gave us great views of the Sonoran desert. I was surprised to find lichen growing in the desert. I have always thought of lichen as an alpine plant, yet here was a species thriving in the desert.
Colorful lichen on the rocks of Brown Mountain, Tucson Mountain Park
Our campsite at Tucson Mountain Park
Next up on our itinerary was Mesa, Arizona. We have an aunt and cousin who live in the Phoenix metropolitan area and we wanted to spend some time with our family. Also, my mother was joining us for a couple weeks of fun in the sun, a way to make her New England winter a little shorter. We made our home at Monte Vista Resort in Mesa. The resort is mostly double wide mobile homes permanently located in the park with a few locations available for transients like us. There are many similar resorts in the area, but this one stands out for a number of reasons. For Sarah, the overwhelming benefits were the metalworking and lapidary studios. She was in her element. Sarah quickly made friends and even taught a workshop in bezel making.

Sarah, Mom and Aunt Arlene at Fountain of the Sun

Harley and Sarah in the lapidary studio

Well designed and equipped woodworking shop

Sarah and I made the trip into downtown Phoenix to visit the Heard Museum. This is a must stop for anyone visiting Phoenix. The Heard family have assembled a wonderful collection of Native American art and displays it in an informative exhibition. Some of the exhibits are very poignant. They tell the story of Native American children being take from their homes and sent to boarding schools in the eastern U.S. where they were "civilized". 

After visiting the museum, we stopped for a glass of wine and a snack at Durant's, a venerable establishment in downtown Phoenix. We enjoyed the Dungeness Crab salad very much.

At Durant's

Another bonus for us in the Phoenix area was the ability to visit with my old friend, Bob. Bob's son Christopher, with his wife Stacy and their three adorable sons, live in Scottsdale. It happened that Bob and his wife, Christine, were in town to visit the kids and grand kids. Sarah and I spent an enjoyable afternoon with our old friends.
Grandpa, Bob, giving drum lessons.
We spent some time in Phoenix when my mom arrived so we could visit with my aunt and cousin. We also visited the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force Museum
The planes and exhibits were well worth the effort to see. I enjoyed having the opportunity to see two of the most important planes in history, the B17, Flying Fortress and to see a fully restored P-47B. These two planes rang the death bell for Germany's Luftwaffe.
Mom wandering around the Air Museum
Together with my aunt, we visited the Japanese Friendship Garden in downtown Phoenix. The garden is compact, but it is beautifully designed to create a sense of peace and tranquility in a busy urban environment.
At the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Next, we headed south for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Just a few mile from the US/Mexican border, we had reservations about traveling here. But, we had information from other Airstreamers that the area was safe and that Border Patrol was keeping the area secure. We have learned that any place designated as a National Monument is, by definition, a beautiful place to be. Organ Pipe National Monument proved to be no exception. We hoped to take one of the guided tours that is run by the National Park Service. But, we had not made reservations. The tours are so popular that they fill up a week before the trip. However, we drove the alternative 22 mile loop road into the Ajo mountain area. We did this on the day of the Phoenix Blizzard. We had mostly cloudy skies accompanied by some sleet/freezing rain. It was a perfect day and the dramatic light on the mountains could not have been better.

The morning of the Phoenix "blizzard' at Organ Pipe National Monument
Organ Pipe National Monument

Double Stone Arches at Organ Pipe National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument near Diablo Canyon
The next morning, Sarah and I hiked the Victoria Mine Trail
This 4.4 mile round trip hike is over gently rolling hills that give great vistas to the south and the town of Sonoyta, Mexico which is just a few miles away.

From Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument we headed for Yuma. I wanted to visit Yuma, but thought it was just a bit "out of the way" for this trip. But, Sarah found out that some colleagues/friends were attending a conference there. So, we made the detour. I was astounded at the number of RV resorts in the Yuma area. We arrived at the Mesa Verde RV park after the office closed, but there was a list of available transient sites posted in the office lobby. We took one that was on a corner lot to give us a little more room (like most RV resorts, there is very little space between the permanent mobile homes). We learned the next morning, that we would have to move because the space we were in was reserved for the coming week.

 While Sarah attended the conference my mom and I toured the Territorial Prison at Yuma. We arrived just as a guided tour was starting. We learned about advanced attitudes of incarceration that were developed here, such as a prison library and hospital. There were no cells to hold the first prisoners sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison, they had to dig into the hillside to make the cells that would incarcerate them. We got a taste of what conditions must have been like for the prisoners. While the day was cool and breezy, the bright sun made the temperature within the enclosed compound very warm. The heat on a hot desert day must have been unbearable.
Prison cells and courtyard at Yuma Territorial Prison
Close by to the prison is the bridge across the Colorado River that, when completed in 1915, it provided the shortest Coast to Coast route by automobile. During the Great Depression it was a place that California State Police stopped people trying to enter California if they could not provide proof of employment or means of support. I call it the DoReMi bridge after the song by Woody Guthrie. Here is Woody's original:
But John Mellenkamp did a fine job with his cover:

Coast to Coast Bridge is behind the darker railroad bridge in the foreground

 We hoped to boondock in the Sonoran Desert National Monument on our way back to Phoenix. But, all the side roads were closed. This forced us to return to the Phoenix metro area. A call to Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, just outside Phoenix, informed us that there were a few spots left in the "over flow" area and they were first come, first served. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to secure site no.94. It was perfect. Our backyard had an unobstructed view of the Superstition Mountains. From our camp site, we drove east into the mountains and canyons. We were amazed by the geological formations as well as the lichen that covered the rocks. Sarah and I have decided that we must study geology to gain an appreciation for what we are seeing.

Our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ

Moonrise at Lost Dutchman State Park
Hoping to find a site to boondock, we drove east on Arizona 88, Apache Trail, past Roosevelt lake to Fish Creek Canyon. While we failed to find any place we would like to boondock, we found amazing vistas at Fish Creek Canyon. This canyon, while not as immense as the Grand Canyon, rivals the Grand Canyon with its color and beauty.
Fish Creek Canyon
Sarah on the edge of Fish Creek Canyon

 We returned to Monte Vista where I left Sarah while my mother and I flew back to Massachusetts.

 Stay tuned, more to come.

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