OK…here we are on Chapter 4 of our 2015-2016 trip blog and you are probably asking, “Where in the hell did THAT title come from?” Well, I dunno. Someplace.
The end of Chapter 3 left us departing the wilds of the Las Vegas wilderness, headed for our friend’s place in Chino Valley, Arizona, where we stocked up on firewood for our stays over the next 3 weeks.. As always, when travelling with our friend, Gary, life is an ever-changing adventure. His interpretation of ‘don’t worry, my house is easy to find’ was relative to the term ‘easy.’ Our GPS finally got us there, after we figured out that some of the streets (cow paths) were non-existent or ended where they were not supposed to. It all turned out OK in the end, and we greatly appreciated their hospitality.
The next day, we made the short jaunt over to Cottonwood, AZ, and Dead Horse Ranch State Park. I would label this place a ‘semi-urban’ park as it sits right on the edge of town. Cottonwood is a burgeoning place, and it demonstrates all the trappings of urban sprawl. However, the park itself is a pretty nice place with many camping loops and some pretty amazing views of the surrounding Verde Valley and the Verde River. Our campsite was nice, with lots of open space surrounding it. Why, it even included a ‘ghetto’ campsite right next to ours, complete with a small trailer that housed 2 adults, at least 5 kids and two big huskies who barked at everything that moved. Everything. We figured that these folks were homeless and moved from state park to state park, where the camping is fairly cheap, but the stays are limited to 2 weeks at a time. We felt sorry for them, but their presence was fairly intrusive to all around them. Their visit ‘timed out’ in the middle of our 1-week stay; peace and quiet returned.
We spent a day up in Jerome, an old, historic and remarkably intact mining town about 15 minutes and about an 1100’ elevation gain from Cottonwood (3900’) – so do the math and the town is about 5000’ above sea level.
Despite the fact that Jerome has the usual touristy shops and eateries, it has still manage to maintain much of its original history and rugged charm. It literally hangs on the side of a mountain, a fact you quickly realize once you start walking (huffing and puffing) the steep streets. Many of the original buildings still exist; several of them have moved down the hill over the years…some as far as 2 blocks. The town still has about 300 residents, many of whom commute to Cottonwood for work.
I am generally skeptical about tourist places like Jerome, but this one has managed to maintain it’s character and ambiance (hence the title of this chapter, ‘Do Not Throw Old Clothes And Shoes Out The Windows.’) We met a lot of interesting people here, some friendly, some seemingly tolerant of our presence. Gotta make a buck when you can.
Adjacent to the downtown area is a wonderful state park with a museum that is worthy of a visit; very friendly and knowledgable volunteer staff and excellent exhibits. There is a great 30 minute film that chronicles the history of the town and really helps to bring things into perspective. We almost enjoyed it, but there was some total jerk right in front of us who held his iPad-Mini above his head – that’s right, ABOVE HIS HEAD – at least 5 times during the film so he could read his email. I would have called him out, but he out-weighed me by at least 100 pounds, so I managed to exercise discretion and keep my mouth shut…a rarity.
OK, before you read the next few paragraphs, keep in mind that I am a self-proclaimed landscape photographer and a devout visual ‘purist’ when it comes to wild and scenic places; I find jet con-trails to be offensive. And I do admit I tend to be on the out-spoken side on occasion.
So, let me discuss the abomination Sedona, Arizona.
The red-rock country in and around Sedona is some of the most spectacular one can ever see, but it is completely and totally despoiled by the urban sprawl that has engulfed the area. It is beyond horrible. Good grief. Houses and businesses are built right up to and against the magnificent formations. Traffic jams everywhere. Want to rent a ‘Pink Jeep’ tour? Well, there are several to choose from. I will admit that the town has tried to exercise some constraint evidenced by their zoning which dis-allows the use of garish signage by McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, etc., and does control the color and style of structures, but it’s too late. The damage is done; a visual cancer has engulfed the area and the patient is dying.
Too bad that the State of Arizona, and/or the Feds, did not step in years ago to protect the area – they could have – and should have. It deserves the same status as the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Big Bend, etc. Seeing this place now makes one want to puke.
I guess I have made my point.
I will say that once you get into ‘old’ Sedona, now a very small part of the total picture, things are not as bad. It’s very quaint and not the visual obscenity as the rest of the town. And, there is an extremely good Art Center there that is worth a visit.
OK, one more ‘grouse’ about this area. We took a drive up Oak Creek Canyon (on a road which eventually ends up in Flagstaff.) The highway is narrow and twisty; it features some remarkable scenery. However, the canyon has few turn-offs that support more than one car. There are only two places where you are safely able to pull off – one run by the State and the other by the Forest Service – BOTH charge $10 to park. JUST TO PARK! And they are both gated entrances. What a total rip-off.
OK…I’m done bitching…on to some better stuff. I guess the bottom line (in my humble opinion) is that if you want to enjoy Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, don’t bother going there…just buy a copy of ‘Arizona Highways’ and read it instead. The view is better.
After a week at Dead Horse, (and after spending a Monday night at a restaurant in town that featured ‘Martini Monday’ – half-price martinis) we ignored our hangovers, mounted up and headed for one of our most favorite places to stay – Lost Dutchman State Park, located in Apache Junction, AZ and right up against the bottom of magnificent Superstition Mountain. The location is really beyond astounding – it’s extraordinarily visual. The campsites are generous in size, fairly private and abound with a wide variety of flora and fauna. Critters everywhere: cactus wrens, quail, LGB’s, cardinals (occasionally), coyotes, bunnies (Charlie’s favorites) etc. You walk out your door and you are in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by giant Saguaro cactus, Palo Verde trees, Cholla (‘jumping’), Ocotillo and many more. The Mountain literally looms over you. (This place is everything that Sedona is not…) The park is nice because you feel like you are in the wilderness, but are still only about 30 minutes from Mesa, and Phoenix. So, you have the best of both worlds. And the scenery is virtually unspoiled.
We spent lots of time walking the trails and enjoying this incredible place. Charlie and Marshall Dylan love this place, too. Marshall Dylan did have a bit of a traumatic experience, however. Dee Dee takes him on several walks a day (yes, she has leash-trained him). Shortly after we got here, they were out and Marshall Dylan walked just a bit too close to a Cholla and picked up a burr that pierced his fur and skin. The cat totally freaked out. We managed to get him to lie down and – remarkably – he allowed us to pull out the spines. Poor guy, he was really hurting. We were lucky to get everything out as the needles of this cactus have barbed ends and are difficult to remove. Charlie is on constant ‘bunny patrol’, too. Although we usually keep him leashed, he manage to escape once and took off like a bullet across the desert – in hot pursuit. It was almost dark and we did get a bit panicked, but he eventually sauntered back, somewhat humbled by being outrun by a critter 1/5 his size.
Our stay will be 2 weeks, not nearly long enough. Since we are here for a while, we have decorated our place with about 500 Christmas lights (‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ – not ‘Happy Holidays’) rope lights, solar lights, flamingo lights and any other kitsch stuff we can find. Two wreaths on the motorhome, too.
Dee Dee and I took a hike guided by a State Park Volunteer, from the campground, out of the State Park, on to Federal Land, and up towards the Mountain. The fellow who was leading us was really good and knew his stuff. This place is full of interesting history – and drama – and legends – dating before Cortez in the 1500’s. The elevation gain was pretty extreme (for men not everyone else), so I could not make it as far as was possible, but what we saw and heard was really great. Learned a lot.
We took a drive up Highway 88 to Canyon Lake one day and were totally blown away by the desert landscape. Some of the most beautiful we have seen this entire trip. And, even though the road was steep and twisty, there were lots of FREE places to pull over and enjoy the environment. (Ha ha.)
So, here we are until December 29th, and then we head off to Benson, Arizona for a few weeks. I leave you now to enjoy the pictures of the area (way too many of the Superstition Mountain area, but it’s worth it) and vicariously experience some of the many good things we have been up to the past several weeks. We continue to have a great time on our travels and are reveling in the people and places we have encountered.
And a very MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you!
OK…just one more thing, my New Year’s Resolutions:
These are things I resolve NOT to do in 2016 –
See you all next year!