Sunday, December 11, 2011

Doing the tourist thing

Friday night we enjoyed a wonderful Italian dinner cooked by Kenny and Robin. We started off with a unique salad: mixed greens, blueberries, strawberries, walnuts, blue cheese, and poppyseed dressing. Then we enjoyed penne a la vodka and garlic bread made with local cheddar that had green chilies and tequila in it. Dessert was a pumpkin-chocolate pie.

On Saturday they picked us up at our campsite and took us site-seeing and shopping.

The first stop was McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch, where we saw the world's largest pistachio and bought some pistachio brittle and blueberry preserves.

Our second stop was Eagle Ranch, which also had pistachios, but in addition, had some nice wines. I tasted their sweet Riesling and like it but chose not to buy a bottle.

From there we headed up the mountain towards Cloudcroft, and stopped at the Old Apple Barn in High Rolls. They had lots and lots of curios, candy, preserves, and fudge. I walked out with some very pretty bamboo plates and bowls for the trailer. They look a bit like stone--but can be used like melamine (except they're safe for the microwave, which is why I got them).

From there we drove up to Cloudcroft, and enjoyed lunch at the Texas Pit BBQ Restaurant. We walked around and visited all the shops, and I'm very proud to say that I didn't spend a penny!

Kenny dropped us off back at our campsite around 4, and we enjoyed a quiet evening together before going to bed at 9:00.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

Friday, December 9

The visitor center and campground sit on the alluvial fan at the mouth of Dog Canyon, at the base of the Sacramento Mountains.

While the park is named for rancher Oliver Lee, who had a house about 2 miles below Dog Canyon, a man nicknamed "Frenchy" (he was from France) had a cabin right next to where the campground sits today. He had 2 rooms, the original stone one to the left and the brick one he added later.

Frenchy had a few cows and horses, and built rock walls up the side of the mountain to keep them in.

The rock wall extends across the mouth of the canyon as well, and a remnant runs right next to our campsite.

After Don and I looked at the visitor center, we took a hike up the canyon a short way. There's running water in the canyon, and Oliver Lee built a flume to send water down to his ranch house.

The remnants of the concrete flume can be seen above the trail along the creek.

A couple hundred yards into the canyon the trail changes course--you can go no further up canyon.

The creek is a couple of feet wide here.

Plenty of snow remains in the shade. The creek sinks into the ground here and is no longer visible.

The trail took us back up the hillside to the rear of French's cabin.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

White Sands in the Snow

Friday, December 9

We awoke with the first light yesterday morning a little after 6. We'd decided not to cook breakfast but to go to the McDonald's that was 8 miles up the road at the interstate. Between hooking up and going to the dump station, we used up enough time to get out of the park gate when it opened at 7. After breakfast we were on the road towards New Mexico.

We started seeing remnants of Tuesday's big snowstorm when we approached Deming, and could see snow on the ground all the way to Alamogordo. We stopped for lunch at a rest area just east of Las Cruces, and then drove through town towards San Augustin Pass. The snow was deeper at the top of the pass, but the road was clear and dry. The view of the Tularosa Basin below and the Sacramento Mountains to the east was gorgeous.

We turned south towards El Paso just outside Alamogordo, and then after 8 miles, took Dog Canyon road the 4 miles to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. It sits on the alluvial fan at the mouth of Dog Canyon, and our campsite is a huge site with water and electric, as well as a view of the Tularosa Basin below us.

Kenny called us after he got off work at Holloman, and we went to see him and Robin at their house in town before going out to dinner. They took us to Tia Lupe's, which is one of the locals' favorite Mexican food places. You can have almost anything on the menu covered with your choice of red or green chile, and the waitress let us know that tonight's red was exceptionally hot ("Those folks at the next table can't finish theirs because it's too hot."). Kenny was unfazed, and ordered his burrito with the red sauce. And boy, was it RED! Don and I ordered the picadillo with green sauce -he had chicken and I had beef. It was pretty good - something new for me. Robin had a burrito, but enjoyed hers plain.

After dinner we visited for a bit at their house before returning to the campground for the night. When we got there, the thermometer in the truck registered 24 degrees, so Don unhooked the hose again and brought it in for the night.

Friday morning was a little bit warmer - 28. We'd agreed to meet Kenny for lunch so we decided to visit nearby White Sands National Monument first.

First, Don had to scrape ice off the windshield.

After we spent a few minutes at the visitor center, we took the scenic loop drive through the lower end of the park. The mountain above is Sierra Blanca, where I skied many times while I was in college at Texas Tech.

At the southern end of the park the dunes have lots of vegetation on them.

When there's no snow, the sand looks very white. But with snow on them, the contrast is evident.

Don took the hard way up to the top.

I took the easy way up around to the side.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Fairbank -a true ghost town

Wednesday, December 7

On our way to Tombstone, we crossed the San Pedro River and saw a sign for Fairbank Historic Townsite. We decided to stop and see it on our way back from Tombstone. (And it's FREE.)

In 1986, the Bureau of Land Management acquired the townsite and 40 miles of river corridor along the San Pedro. In 1988 it was designated the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. From the pamphlet:

"The 56,000 acre riparian corridor features some of the richest wildlife habitat in the Southwest. Here you will find 82 species of mammals, dozens of different reptiles and amphibians and nearly 350 species of birds. In addition, the river supports one of the largest cottonwood-willow forest canopies remaining in Arizona, and is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest.

The area contains significant cultural resources dating back approximately 11,000 years to the Clovis people, the first known occupants in the upper San Pedro Rive Valley. The river valley was home to a Spanish fortress, several stamping mills, the ore-processing towns of Charleston, Millville, Contention, and others. The Boquillas Land and Cattle Company set up its ranch headquarters just south of Fairbank. One of the ranch manager's houses, now the restored San Pedro House on Highway 90, is open daily."

Fairbank is named after Nathanial Kellogg Fairbank, a Chicago merchant who helped finance the first railroad into the area in 1881. He was also a founding member of the Grand Central Mining Company in Tombstone. By 1889, Fairbank had five saloons, a meat market, general store, grocery, three restaurants, a hotel, a Wells Fargo office, livery stables, train and stage depots, a school, post office, and residents' houses.

The building on the left was built in the 1930s (making it the same age as our house in Forest Falls), and is often referred to as the "Teacher's House." the building on the right was a stable.

This is a two-seated outhouse - the second seat is hidden to the left.

The Fairbank schoolhouse was built in the late 1920s, replacing a wooden structure that had burned down. The original building was one room, but a partition separated it into two rooms. In the early 1930s a third room was added. The school was closed in 1944, and the students were transferred to the Tombstone Unified School District. The BLM restored the schoolhouse in 2007 using original materials where possible, and replicated features such as the doors and windows. It's been converted to a museum that is open to the public on the weekends.

This is the mercantile building, the oldest surviving building in Fairbank, dating to 1882. It housed a store, saloon, and post office owned and operated by several families. Some of the families lived in the building as well. The BLM is still in the process of renovating the building. Upon completion, the fence will come down and new interpretive signs will be developed.

The town still had people living there well into the 1950s, but the town was slowly dying and by the 1970s only a roadside store with a gas pump remained. By the mid-1970s the last few of its residents closed the store and moved away. the old train depot for the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad was moved to Tombstone.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Wednesday, December 7

After our morning in Kartchner Caverns, we decided to go to Tombstone for the afternoon. It's only about 30 miles.

I'll be up front and tell you we were less than impressed with Tombstone. We love visiting old mining towns and other historical places, but this was the first one where virtually everything was behind big walls and locked gates. Everything charged admission--the Bird Cage Theater, the O. K. Corral, the silver mine, and Boot Hill. We didn't see any of those.

The town has a 2-block section that's off limits to automobiles, and it's lined with shops that sell everything from curios and jewelry to expensive art and antiques. I didn't find anything I really needed, except for some tasty fudge.

There are two of these stagecoaches that will take you up and down the street (for a fee, of course) and show you the sights.

This photo is definitely going on Facebook!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kartchner Caverns

Wednesday, December 7

If you ever get the opportunity to spend a little time in southeastern Arizona, you MUST visit Kartchner Caverns State Park. Wow! What an amazing place.

There are no photos from Kartchner Caverns because they're not allowed.

We were up early (since we'd gone to bed early) and had to run the heater in the trailer because it was so cold. Breakfast was scrambled eggs with diced ham and toast. Our caverns tour reservation was for 10:15, but we'd been told to arrive an hour early in case they had room in an earlier tour.

We were put in the 9:45 tour, and our tour guide was a ranger named Rachel. There were about 14 people in our group. We got on a little tram and were driven up the hill to the cave entrance. On the way, we were shown the sink hole where the discovery was made--a hole that was about the size of a grapefruit. It's a bit larger now, and is the only hole that is still open. The bats use this hole when they're in residence (right now they're not).

We went through a series of airtight doors, and the air got increasingly warmer and more humid. The air in the cave remains a constant 80 degrees and 99% humidity. Kartchner Caverns is one of two "wet caves" in the country (I don't know what the other one is). Rachel took us on the hour+ tour, during which we were overwhelmed by the magnificent beauty of the formations. We saw so many different kinds of speleothems--stalactites, stalagmites, and more. I learned that in addition to the no-photography rule, the lights inside the cave remain off when no one is inside, and they are activated by the rangers when a tour comes through. There's a limit on the number of people allowed in each day, too. The scientists and state park officials decided from the beginning that they would "do it right" when developing this cave, and took many of their policies from lessons learned from other caves such as Mammoth and Carlsbad.

We were disappointed when our tour came to an end. We could have stayed in there for hours, it was so beautiful.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Gila Bend to Kartchner Caverns

Tuesday, December 6

Tuesday morning we were up at 6 and took our time with coffee and breakfast, since we only had about 170 miles to go. I decided to use some of those fat blueberries I had in the freezer, and made blueberry pancakes with some Little Smokies. We were on the road by 8:30, and had an easy trip on Interstate 8 to the junction with the 10 near Eloy. There we picked up a little of the Phoenix-to-Tucson traffic. There was construction as well, but we really didn't have any difficulty.

We reached the turnoff to Kartchner Caverns State Park around 11:30, and were pleasantly surprised to learn that campers do NOT have to pay the state park entrance fee. (In Colorado, you have to pay for EACH DAY you're in one of their state parks.) We pulled into a spacious pull-through campsite among the mesquite trees and settled in for the next two days. We were greeted by Margie, one of the campground hosts and enjoyed a short chat with her. There are only 5-6 RVs here (in addition to the hosts) so things are blissfully quiet. The park is at an elevation of 4600', so it's a bit chilly.

After lunch we headed over to the Discovery Center and spent a couple of hours learning all about the caverns. We learned that they were only recently discovered--1976--but kept secret for 14 years until the public was made aware of the new state park. We watched a video about the discovery and the subsequent protection, as well as how the cavern's formations came to be. The Discovery Center has some very nice displays that help visitors understand the history and geology of the caverns.

We came back to the trailer around 3, where Don enjoyed a nap and I watched some TV. Dinner was barbecue "muffins," and we watched some more TV until we went to bed to read. We'd been warned that it would be freezing during the night, so Don unhooked the water hose and brought it inside the trailer for the night.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1st Night on the Road--Gila Bend, Arizona

Monday, December 5

There's something about an Arizona sunset. Even with no clouds in the western sky, this one was pretty.

We're at Augie's Quail Trail RV Park in Gila Bend, Arizona, after a drive of about 6 hours. Instead of getting up at O-dark-thirty like we used to we got up at our normal time (6:30), and enjoyed some coffee at home before we headed down to Mentone. We stopped at McDonald's for a quick breakfast, then went over to the place where we keep the trailer. We'd hooked up the truck already, so Don pulled the trailer out and I parked the Jeep in the spot.

Don had been concerned about the Santa Ana winds, and they were picking up as we drove through the San Gorgonio Pass. But he knuckled down and we pulled off the 10 at Indio to head south past the Salton Sea to the 8. We'd never gone this way before, and decided it was time to see something new. Interstate 8 goes past the southern end of the Imperial Sand Dunes, and we stopped at a rest area there for lunch.

Our son Kenny called us after lunch to give us some nice news: he proposed to his girlfriend Robin yesterday, and she (naturally) said yes. We're on our way to visit them, so I look forward to giving her a big hug and seeing her ring!

He says it's snowing hard there, and is supposed to snow all day tomorrow. We might delay our arrival in Alamogordo a day--it's nice to have that flexibility. I've been so used to being on tight schedules because of work.

We reached the campground at Gila Bend around 4 local time, and after our traditional "first night out" dinner of chili dogs and fries, are now watching Monday Night Football.

Tomorrow: Kartchner Caverns State Park, south of Tucson.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad