Where The Hell Is Benson?

Pano View of Superstition Mtn

OK….the VERY last panoramic view of Superstition Mountain, from near our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, AZ.

Cloudy Mountains

View across the town of Benson and the San Pedro Valley, with impending storm clouds over distant mountain range. It ended up snowing here…an extremely rare occurrence.

So, here we are in beautiful Benson, Arizona. For about a month.  Really?  Yep.

Actually, Benson is central to a lot of pretty cool stuff:

  • It has a half-way decent golf course with a half-way decent restaurant and bar.
  • 75 miles from Chiricahua National Monument
  • 8 miles from Kartchner Caverns
  • 30 miles from Tombstone
  • 60 miles from Benson
  • 80 miles to Douglas
  • 100 miles from Nogales
  • 45 miles from Tucson
  • 40 miles from the Pima Air and Space Museum
  • 50 miles from the Titan Missile Museum
  • 60 miles from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
  • 50 miles from Old Tucson
  • 45 miles from Fort Huachuca
  • 50 miles to Saguaro National Monument
  • And a whole lot of other stuff…

We are staying is this pretty nice place, up on a hill overlooking the town, the San Pedro Valley, with a magnificent mountain range in the background. It’s quiet and the folks here are generally pretty friendly. There are restaurants in town…all about the same, e.g., ‘Blue Collar Benson.’ Of course there is a Super-Wal-Mart, so how much more perfect could life be?

OK, each installment has to have either a funny story or rant in it, just to keep you all coming back:

While we were in Tombstone having lunch, we asked our waitress, Rei, when the gunfight in the street was scheduled.  “,Oh.  Well, they quit doing those a couple of months ago when one of the cowboy actors accidentally (?) had LIVE AMMUNICATION  in his sidearm and ended up shooting, and wounding, another one of the actors and two tourists.”  I kid you not!  True story.  Google it.  Only in Arizona, the home of open carry with no permit necessary.  Anyhow, she said they still do a reenactment down at the OK Corral (for which you now have to pay….the street gunfight was free before.)  They also have instituted new ‘bullet check’ policies.

I am keeping the verbiage to a minimum in this installment (Chapter 5); I hope you enjoy the pics that follow. So far, this leg of the trip has been fairly pleasant and everything we have done we have enjoyed…nothing much to complain about, really. None of the scenic areas here have been wrecked (like Sedona.) Quite the contrary – the wilderness here has been very nicely preserved. Hurray for south-east Arizona!

Rotating Palms

Yucca plant, near Benson, AZ,

Prickley Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus, near Benson, AZ.

Chir Pano

Panoramic view of rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Big View of Rocks Chir

Rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Chirachaua Rocks Shade

Rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Rocks and Dead Tree Chir

Rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Bob The Red Chir

Bob-The-Red and rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Dee Dee Rocks

Dee Dee and rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Flat Rock Chir

Rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument.

Console Titan

Dee Dee in the Titan Launch Control Command Center, Titan Missile Center near Tucson. This is where ‘The Button’ (actually 2 separate synchronized keys) is located. We are about 150 feet underground.

Looking Up Missle

Looking 150′ up the silo at the body of the Titan II missile that held the nuclear war head. During the Cold War, there were 24 of these active silos around the general Tucson area. This is the only one left (or so they tell us.) Scary.

Nose Cone Titan

Top of Titan II missile with a dummy nuclear warhead in place. If this missile was launched and detonated over Tucson, it would have totally incinerated everything in a 40-mile radius, not to mention the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of square miles of deadly fallout. If this missile was launched, it could not be stopped (there was no self-destruction mechanism for security reasons) ; it was only 33 minutes to Moscow. The things we did in the name of ‘deterrence.’

Missle Bottom Titan

Bottom of Titan II missile. The engines are not attached. (They were located outside in another exhibit); they were remarkably small when compared to the scale of the actual rocket.

Dopple Radar Titan

Security Doppler radar used to monitor the immediate periphery around silo that contained Titan II missile.

Cochise County Courthouse

Original Cochise County Courthouse, Tombstone, AZ.  A beautiful building that houses an excellent museum.

Rei at Palace Saloon Tombstone

Our most excellent server, Rei, at the Palace Saloon in Tombstone.

Bob, Carol, Dee Dee

With our good friend Carol, on a windy and stormy day in Benson.

Dee Dee and Amelia

Amelia and Dee Dee at the Pima Air and Space Museum, near Tucson.

 

 

Do Not Throw Old Clothes Or Shoes Out Of The Windows

 

Towards Goldfield Mtns Panorama

iPhone panoramic view of Goldfield Range, taken from the base of Superstition Mountain, Arizona. Note the squall lines moving across the valley below. It was a cold and windy day.

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.

Delicate Bush Dead Horse

Delicate grasses, Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

Dead Hourse Sun Lit Trees

Cottonwood trees, Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

Dead Horse Tumbleweeds

Tumbleweed and cottonwood trees, Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

Dead Horse Clouds

Storm clouds near Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

Bill Dead Horse Camp Host

Bill, our friendly, but skeptical, campground host at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona. “You ain’t gonna put this on the Inner-Net, are ya?”

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.

Jerome Panorama

iPhone panorama view of Jerome, taken from the Jerome State Park Visitors Center.

Sunflower at Cleopatra Hill Jerome

Sunflower, a very friendly (and gregarious) clerk at a little shop called ‘Cleopatra Hill’ in Jerome.

Jerome Chairs

Blue chairs, trees and old buildings, Jerome, Arizona.

Concrete Wall Jerome

Wall detail, Jerome, Arizona.

Greg AT Mille High Resturant

Greg, the owner of the Mile High Restaurant in Jerome, Arizona. Super-friendly guy. This was a great place to eat (and drink.)

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.

Clothes Sign

NOW you get the title of this chapter… (Sign seen in the Jerome State Park Museum.)

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.

Harry at Jerome Park Museum

Harry, our 90-year-old greeter at the Jerome State Park Visitor Center. “I can only do this job about 1 day a week for about 4 hours. I just get too tired.” Harry was a font of knowledge about Jerome and super-friendly.

Gary and Manuel The Barber

Gary and I got (badly needed) haircuts at Manuel’s Hair in Old Cottonwood. His shop doubled as an antique store; you literally had to walk through a tunnel of stuff to get to the barber chair. Manuel has been cutting hair in Cottonwood for over 40 years. We both got his ‘Senior Special’ -5 bucks.

Richard Hot Sauce Man

Richard operates a small shop in Old Cottonwood that sold only hot sauces. Neat guy with a neat product. (Tom, we picked up a bottle of ‘special stuff’ just for you.)

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.

Sedona Traffic Light

Welcome to 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.

Sedona Lasix Home

View of Sedona, Arizona, from the Church in the Rocks (Holy Chapel.). The monstrosity of a house you see near the lower center of the picture was built by Dr. Peyman, the guy who invented Lasik Surgery. Money gets you almost anything… Sure fits in with the environment, huh?

Sedona Cactus View from Church

View from Church of the Rocks, Sedona. Look right-center and you see encroaching houses.

Outside Sedona Church

Church of the Rocks, Sedona, Arizona. Turn around from this view and all you will see is houses and business.

Inside Sedona Church

Interior view, Church of the Rocks (The Holy Chapel), Sedona, Arizona.

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.

Oak Creek Road Barrier

Small parking area, near the beginning of Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, Arizona.

Oak Creek Trees

Oak trees, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. We lucked out and found a FREE place to pull of the road.

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.

Gary and Mountain

Superstition Mountain and Gary, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Dee Dee Walking Towards Mtn

Dee Dee (yellow spot) hiking up a fairly steep trail, headed toward Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Palo Verde Tree

Palo Verde tree, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona. Sadly these trees are slowly being killed off my mistletoe, the seeds of which are excreted by birds. The State Park volunteers have attempted to eradicate this non-native parasite, but they just can’t keep up with it.

Dead Cactus

Dead Saguaro cactus and Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Cholla Falls

Cholla (‘jumping’) cactus. Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Cholla Close Up

Detail of Cholla, (‘jumping’) cactus, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona. They are also known as ‘teddy bear’ cactus.

Charlie and Sundial

Charlie and a friend he met while hiking with us. Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Cactus Panorama

Saguaro cactus in our campsite, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Cactus and Mountain at Dusk

Cholla and Saguaro cactus, Superstition Mountain. Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

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.

Guys at Lunch

Rich, Terry, Neil and The Bob, part of the Moto-Geezer Death Ride contingent that met in Mesa to plan our next big trip to St. George, Utah, in Man 2106..

Neil and Morgan

Neil and his classic Morgan sports car. It’s over 20 years old and in perfect condition.

Rich and Honda

Rich and his fully restored 1975 Honda CB 500. The bike was absolutely immaculate. It took Rich over 4 years to restore – he tore it down to the last bolt.

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.

Christmas Lights

Our Christmas decorations and RV, taken at dusk, with Superstition Mountain in the background. Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

brushed

Merry Christmas from The Bob, Charlie, Dee Dee and Marshall Dylan, from Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

OK…just one more thing, my New Year’s Resolutions:

These are things I resolve NOT to do in 2016 –

  1. NEVER – ever – use that hackneyed word, ‘Awesome’ (except in this single sentence)
  2. NEVER grow scruffy facial hair; I know that’s not cool, but its getting really boring of seeing it everywhere…makes one look like they just woke up
  3. NEVER bitch any more about Sedona, Arizona…just ignore it.
  4. NEVER drink less beer than I do now…

See you all next year!

Leaving Arizona, Headed To Texas!

Point of Rocks RV Park, between Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona

Point of Rocks RV Park, between Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona

The last installment of the blog found us at the Point of Rocks RV park, a delightful, friendly and beautiful place located between Prescott and Prescott Valley, Arizona.  This unique place is nestled among large boulders.  The spaces are generous and there is lots of privacy.  Point of Rocks is an older park and it’s age is showing somewhat, but still and all, it’s a very cool place.

Debbie, Gary, Dee Dee and Thee Bob at an excellent post-Thanksgiving, Pre-Christmas turkey dinner prepared by Debbie.

Debbie, Gary, Dee Dee and The Bob at an excellent post-Thanksgiving, Pre-Christmas turkey dinner prepared by Debbie.

As usual, we had a great time visiting our good friends Gary and Debbie Paulson.  Had a nice post-Thanksgiving-Pre-Christmas turkey dinner at their place.  Also got to visit their latest land acquisition, a nice acre of land way out in the county, where they plan to build their teeny-weeny retirement home.

I mentioned in the previous post that the check engine light on our truck came on as we were pulling up the long hill in I-40, after departing Bullhead City, AZ.  We took it into the Dodge dealer in Prescott who did their best to get it fixed, but they were constrained by factory procedures.  Here is what we had to go through:

First trip to the dealer – they re-flashed the ROM.  That fix lasted about day.

Second trip to the dealer – they replaced a wiring harness.  That fix lasted about an hour.

Third trip to the dealer – they replaced the oxygen sensors.  That last about 3 hours. As we were leaving town, on our way to Apache Junction and Lost Dutchman State Park, it came on again. So, we spent almost 2 entire days, and a total of 3 trips back to the dealership.

View of Superstition Mountain from our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park

View of Superstition Mountain from our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park

Impending blooms, cholla cactus, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Impending blooms, cholla cactus, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Sunrise silhouettes Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Sunrise silhouettes Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert detail, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert detail, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Storm clouds over Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Storm clouds over Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert scene, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Desert scene, Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Every Arizona State Park we have visited has been excellent, and Lost Dutchman is no exception.  It’s a magnificent place, located at the very foot of the Superstition Mountains.  Large spaces, great views and a very friendly staff, largely consisting of volunteers.  We spent 3 days there and I had a great visit with an old ASU graduate school buddy, Neil Miller, who showed up in his vintage Morgan, a very cool automobile.  We would have like to have spent more time exploring the area, but, as outlined above, the truck check engine light continued to plague us.  I managed to get a local Dodge dealer to squeeze us in on a Friday morning, and act of pure kindness on their part since their service department was totally maxed out.  I showed up at 8 AM and they told me that it should be fixed by noon.  Noon came and I was told 3 PM as they were having a hard time diagnosing the problem.  3 PM came and went.  Finally, at 5:45 PM it was completed.  We had to spend the entire day at the dealership waiting, instead of being out walking the trails of Superstition Mountain.  Turns out the issue was a wire running to a sending module (which they also replaced) to an oxygen sensor  was not properly seated.  They blamed it on the Prescott dealer.  Anyhow, they seemed to have fixed the issue, as we have not seen the light come back on. (Knock on wood.)  Even though we had to miss a lot of Lost Dutchman SP and the surrounding area, we have already booked another 5 days in March (where are going to meet up with Gary and Debbie) and plan to do lots of exploring.  This is really a very cool place.

OK then.  From Lost Dutchman State Park we headed south to Benson, AZ., to meet up with our friends Gary and Debbie, and their brand shiney, new, spiffy, very cool  Winnebago motorhome.  And, just as we travel with our guys, Charlie-the-dog and Dylan-the-cat, they bring their African Gray parrot, Pepper – big cage and all.  We all stayed at this nice RV park, Cochise Terrace, which sits up on a hill, overlooking the town.  Nice views and plenty of space for the dog to run and the cat to skulk around.  We did a couple of day trips, the first to Kartchner Caverns State Park, where there are a series of ‘live’ caves (meaning that water is still present, causing features in the caves to continue growing.)  Kartchner Caverns (named after the original land owners) is very well protected; the groups that travel through them are kept small – our tour to the ‘Big Room’ was limited to 15 people.  They protect the delicate cave infrastructure in several ways: to enter the caves you pass through 3 airlocks and a ‘mist bath’ to minimize disbursement of lint.  This Arizona State Park is well managed and the tour is well worth the $23/person admission.  And, if we had the whole thing to do over again, we would have stayed at the campground in the Park.  Great views and plenty of space.  Maybe next time.

Gary, Dee Dee and Debbie with our very knowledgeable bird tour guide at the Oasis Bird Sanctuary north of Benson, Arizona.  She knew the name of almost every one of the 850-plus birds located there.  No kidding.

Gary, Dee Dee and Debbie with our very knowledgeable bird tour guide at the Oasis Bird Sanctuary north of Benson, Arizona. She knew the name of almost every one of the 850-plus birds located there. No kidding.

Dee Dee with our good friends, Gary and Debbie, at the entrance to the Oasis Bird Sanctuary, north of Benson, Arizona

Dee Dee with our good friends, Gary and Debbie, at the entrance to the Oasis Bird Sanctuary, north of Benson, Arizona

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona.  Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona. Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Bright red Macaw, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Bright red Macaw, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Dee Dee and African Gray parrot, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Dee Dee and African Gray parrot, Oasis Bird Sanctuary, near Benson, Arizona

Our second trip was (way) out to the Oasis Bird Sanctuary, which can be found about 30 miles north of Benson; the last 7 miles of the trip are on a dirt road.   This is a very cool place that houses over 850 exotic birds.  They end up here because they were abandoned by their owners (dick heads), caught by different Animal Control agencies, or just given up by their owners.  Also, this is the last stop for all the birds, many of whom can live for more than 50 years.  They are guaranteed a good home for the remainder of their life.  Although they get requests almost every day to adopt birds, they can only take in about 20 per year.  This is an amazing place that is composed of many aviaries sitting on several acres, well worth the visit.  It operates totally on donations from a variety of sources.  And, you must schedule your visit in advance.  They spent about 3 hours with us and we got to walk right into most of the aviaries.  What a great experience.  And, you have no idea how NOISEY birds can be.  After the tour, a donation is expected – they tell you this in advance. (Gary gave them the equivalent of $25/person.)  Finally, you must make arrangements in advance for a tour…you can’t just show up.

Dee Dee and her boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Dee Dee and her boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Dee Dee trying on hats at a store in Tombstone, Arizona.  A sign next to the hats said, "Hats are for buying, not for picture taking."  Guess I musta missed it.

Dee Dee trying on hats at a store in Tombstone, Arizona. A sign next to the hats read, “Hats are for buying, not for picture taking.” Guess I musta missed it.

After Gary and Debbie departed so Gary could go back to work (sucker!), we took another day trip down to Tombstone, about 25 miles south of Benson.  Pretty much what you might expect – touristy to a large extent, but still fun to walk around.  Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is pretty neat inside.  One thing definitely worth a visit is the old Cochise County Courthouse, which has been converted to an excellent museum.  Here, you get a real sense of what life was like when the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday walked the streets.

Dunes, White Sands National Recreation Area

Dunes, White Sands National Recreation Area

Dune detail, White Sand National Recreation Area

Dune detail, White Sand National Recreation Area

Metals walkway over protected area, White Sands National Monument

Metals walkway over protected area, White Sands National Monument

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Charlie's been here.  White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Charlie’s been here. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

From Benson, we head off to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a few days.  Las Cruces is primarily a military town, supported by the White Sands Missile Range.  It’s a very friendly, historic and rapidly growing area.  It also is the location of the worst Denny’s Restaurant on the planet.  No kidding.  Barf City.  It’s as if they actually try to provide the customer with world-class crappy service, long waits, cold food, botched orders, luke warm coffee and no utensils.  No Kidding.  (And we are actually Denny’s fans.)   To counter this experience, on Christmas Day we found another Denny’s in town (the ONLY restaurant in the area that was open); it was OK, so Denny’s partially redeemed themselves.

We also drove out to White Sands National Monument for the day.  Great wave-like dunes of sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The sand really is pure white and there is a nice drive right through the dunes.  Despite the crowds, we easily found places where you could walk where there were no other people and no footprints.

Merry Christmas from Las Cruces, New Mexico

Merry Christmas from Las Cruces, New Mexico

After Las Cruces, we headed down I-90 for Alpine, Texas, via El Paso.  It was cold and spitting snow as we passed through town.  Once we cleared El Paso, the real space of Texas started to reveal itself.  Texas is BIG, and you can really feel it.  It’s a long way from anything to anywhere.  We really like Texas.  One the way to Alpine you pass through Marfa, known for the fake Prada storefront just west of town.  It’s formality and shape stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding prairie.  We would have shared a picture of it with you, but by the time we passed it there was no room to pullover.  Bummer.

One of the notable features when you are entering Alpine is the old (but still active) railroad overpass on I-90.  Even though I-90 is a main thoroughfare, the clearance of the bridge is only about 13’ 4”.  The height of our 5th wheel is also 13’4”, so we decided not to risk and to take a well-traveled detour around it.  The locals tell a story of the time a large semi-truck/trailer passed under and didn’t quite make it.  Almost everyone in town showed up with their lawn chairs to watch as they let the air of the tires to lower the vehicle enough to clear.  Wahooo!

We stayed at this place called the Lost Alaskan RV Park, about a mile north of town.  One of the very best places we have stayed so far.  Extremely friendly and very spacious.  With a great fenced dog run, so it rates high on Charlie’s list as well.  It seems as if everyone in Texas we have met so far seems genuinely happy to meet you.  What a place.

After Alpine, we headed south to Big Bend National Park, located at the ‘Big Bend’ of the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico.  Several friends who are considering traveling to Big Bend NP have asked us for our opinion of the place, so here ya go…

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Detail, prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Detail, prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend is an immense and magnificent place.  ‘Spectacular’ is a fitting adjective.  Amazing, rugged mountains and beautiful desert.  Very remote in many ways (Alpine and Sanderson, about 100 miles away, are the closest towns.)  There is a lot to see and do in this place, but be prepared to drive a long way to anything to see stuff.  OK, that’s the ‘up’ side.  The downside (at least for some people) is that it’s an older National Park that has not really been upgraded for contemporary RV’s (some of you might see that as a positive.)  There are several campgrounds, but they are all geared for tent campers or very small RV’s – like under 24’ LOA.  Also, be prepared to dry camp (not really a bid deal – there are places to fill up with water before you enter the campgrounds) as none of the campgrounds have any services at the sites, except for one commercial operation located at the south end of the park in Rio Grande Village; it’s a total joke and we suggest avoiding it.  If you have ever stayed at an RV park in Las Vegas (known for cramming rigs into very small spaces), then you be right at home in this place.  It’s basically a converted parking lot and extremely narrow.  We drove through it and there was barely room even for our truck to pass through.  It’s a wonderment how any of the RV’s in there (the place was packed) got in there.

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas.  Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the left center of the image

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas. Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the lower right center of the image

Mexicans cross the Rio Grand and leave this little volunteer 'stores' and many locations along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.

Mexicans cross the Rio Grand and leave these little volunteer souvenir ‘stores’ at many locations along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.

Mexican cowboy crossing the Rio Grand to check on his souvenir sales

Mexican cowboy crossing the Rio Grand to check on his souvenir sales

Mexican cowboy who crossed the river on his magnificent palomino

Mexican cowboy who crossed the river on his magnificent palomino

Waxy cactus (I forget the real name) used for making candles, cosmetics, etc.  Big Bend National Park, Texas

Waxy cactus (I forget the real name) used for making candles, cosmetics, etc. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Reed detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Reed detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

We stayed at the main campground at the south end of the park in Rio Grande Village.  Beautiful sites, lots of trees and space in between.  But, only about 3-4 of them can accommodate RV’s over 30’ in length.  If you plan to go here, it’s imperative that you make a reservation on-line.  (If you want a suggestion as to which sites are the largest, feel free to contact us and we will give you a recommendation.)  We were lucky and had reserved a site that would fit us, but even then getting in was a bit of a struggle.  Also of note is a Texas State Park immediately to the west, and adjacent to, Big Bend National Park.   Dee Dee talked to a guy who had been there and was told the accommodations there were better.  Something to look into for next time.

We cut our visit to Big Bend National Park short for two reasons:  there was a nasty weather front moving in; getting out of there for our next destination, Del Rio, also on the Rio Grande/Mexico border, might have been problematic.  But perhaps the biggest reason was the mass of humanity that invaded the Park for the Christmas/New Year’s break.  There were just too many people; they were everywhere you went.  Traffic was awful.  And speaking of traffic, we encountered numerous DWA’s who really should not be allowed anywhere near a car or highway.  No kidding.

So, three days into our planned 6 day stay we left for Del Rio, Texas.  And a good thing, too, as we were literally about 3 hours ahead of freezing rain and impassible (several were closed) roads.  We stayed at this place called Broke Mill RV park.  Friendly and adequate, but about 6 miles from town.  Del Rio is actually a pretty big place (it has a super Walmart, so there ya go…)  You can take a cab across the border to Ciudad Acuna, but the guy who ran the RV park said it’s hardly worth the visit because ‘there was nothing really there.’  So we decided to skip it.  I forgot to mention (above) that as we were leaving Big Bend NP I started to feel sort of crappy.  Well, once we hit Del Rio, the flu set in pretty good.  I have not been really ‘flu sick’ in years, so this was pretty surprising.  So, most of our 4 days in Del Rio were spent with me being sick.  And, I was still ill as we packed up and headed for San Antonio, where I got worse with horrible congestion and a severe cough (but, the accompanying hallucinations were pretty good.)   As of today (January 6), I think I am on the road to recovery.  Dee Dee is fine – let’s just hope I have not passed this nasty thing on to her.

And so this chapter ends.  Stay tuned for the next installment…