Friday, February 19, 2016

Retirement Reconnaissance, Rain Relief, & Recreation

Two weeks and almost 4,000 miles ago, we set off in Arvie for the Great Southwest. Our primary goal was to get a feel for a few of the areas in Arizona and New Mexico that we are considering for retirement. Since retirement means time to do things you like to do, we also did some things we like to do to give us a more fully-rounded idea of whether or not these areas would support the things we like to do. So,  grab your traveling snacks, buckle up, and let's roll!

Because this was an RV trip that involved some very long days of just driving without a recreational destination at the end of them, we tried out an idea I'd read about on another blog of RV boondocking at Pilot/Flying J truck stops. These particular truck stops bill themselves as RV-friendly and allow them to park overnight for free. Seemed like a pretty good deal to us!

This is our first view of Mt. Shasta, the second-highest Cascade peak (14,179') at the base of which sits Weed, CA the site of our first truck stop over-nighter. We were pleased to find the stop had plenty of space to park in a well-lit area, and no one hassled us. (I won't bore you with details from all the truck stops; suffice it to say it was a great way to travel.) This proved to be the coldest night of the whole trip, dipping well below freezing. I wore a beanie and slept under all the blankets and the dog.

Day 2 was a driving day, as was most of Day 3, but in the late afternoon we arrived at our first fun destination, Tucson Mountain Park. This park is located along the southern border of Saguaro National Park, and we chose it specifically to enjoy the saguaro cacti that only grow in this area of the world. 

While The Big Guy got us plugged in, I captured this little guy flitting about and perching at our campsite.

To stretch my cramping legs, I briefly explored the campground trail. Sunset was coming on quickly, and although this was not really an isolated trail, it only took a few minutes of walking alone into the desert for it to feel very isolated. I got a small case of the willies and scooted on back to camp.

Along the way, I saw several quail, a rabbit, and this mourning dove. As it turns out, mourning doves are everywhere in the bottom left corner of the country.

There are no disappointing sunsets in the southwest. 

Nor disappointing sunrises.

Our morning trek was again along the campground trail because it allowed dogs and we needed to tire her out so we could take our longer hike without her later. It was 2 miles total, and took us down to a park attraction:

It's an old west town re-creation that offers can-can shows, gunfights, and the like. It was not open for the day yet (and we weren't going to visit anyhow) but it was fun to peek through the fences.

 Silky flycatcher being all shiny and crested.

One of the things that fascinates me about this area of the country is that, driving along, the landscape isn't all that appealing. There are always mountains in the distance, which look nice, but the rest often looks like boring dry scrub. It's completely deceptive. Here we go for a 5 mile hike along the Brown Mountain Trail, and until you are in the landscape, it's impossible to appreciate it.

The saguaros are huge. From the road, they look only like tall greenish spikes punctuating the scrub, but up close it's quite a different scene.

Look at how beautiful it is and how small it makes The Big Guy seem!


 To find out what type of bird this is, I Googled "bird curved beak arizona sonora" and up popped several pictures of this type of bird on top of cacti! In that case, I think it's reasonable to say this is a Curve-billed Thrasher.

 Starting down from the top of Brown Mountain. You can see the trail stretching out to the next peak. Did I mention it was in the mid-70's? Because it was.

These cacti's arms grow in the craziest positions!

The view from on high of the campground. Once we arrived back at it, we opened the windows and hatches to let the fragrant, warm air blow through. Unexpectedly, we had TV reception, so we lounged about and watched the Super Bowl. Relaxing!

We slept in the next morning (well, for us anything past 0400 is sleeping in) and that turned out to be a mistake because the poor pup had an accident in her sleep. Fortunately, our next leg of the trip was to be a short one, and we easily found a laundromat next to a grocery store next to a taco shop. Trifecta!

Uncharacteristically, I neglected to get a photo of the park sign, so here is one I stole off the internet.

I had a reservation for one of the cave tours, and they called to see if I could go on an earlier one, so I set off for my adventure as soon as we pulled in. The Big Guy opted out of this activity and got us all settled into our space.

 While I explored the Discovery Center and rode the tram up to the cave entrance, he spied this Ladder-backed Woodpecker making a hole in the cactus.

As I was enjoying the warmth of the cave where photos are prohibited, TBG noticed our neighbors had a very interesting method of leveling their rig.

The next morning, we set off for a hike.

It was chilly, as desert mornings are, but sunny because, well, Arizona.

TBG spotted these on the ridgeline.

I tried to catch up to them, but they're far to wary for that.

Help! A javelina-pig is after me!

Whew, not a pig! Javelina aren't pigs, either, and if you see one, don't call it that or it will bite you.

TBG getting some photos.

Like this one.

And this one.

My javelina was tired after her hike, so we tucked her back into the rig for a rest while we each took a nice free shower at the park facilities before setting off for our next stop. (The showers really weren't terrible -- clean, large, no extra cost, it just took a long time to warm up and my shower head dispensed a stream instead of a spray.)

Next stop, Sierra Vista and the Winslows, who are old Army friends of TBG's, and who he hadn't seen in something like 30 years. They were kind enough to allow us to park at their lovely house and use their electricity and internet. It was great for them all to reunite and catch up, and they made me feel like I'd always known them, too.

Here is the view from their house to a local eatery for Taco Tuesday. Nice!

Here are their two kitties, Cera and Thomas, keeping a close watch on Zuli to make sure she doesn't get any big ideas about coming in to their territory. Cera gave us our kitty-fix, wanting to be petted and talking up a storm. Thomas was shy, but he did greet us through the window both mornings.

There were a few "business" things we wanted to get done while in Sierra Vista, one of which was seeing a few houses with a realtor, which we did for half a day. During our tours, I got my first look at an Arizona Bark Scorpion. Fortunately, it was dead. Unfortunately, I was surprised at how small it was in person, and it did nothing to assuage my fears of this particular scorpion.

The other thing I really wanted to check out was Sierra Vista's Farmer's Market. I was particularly looking forward to a beef empanada for lunch, having seen them advertised on the market's Facebook page all week. We planned to roll through it the morning of our last day there, and Mark (Winslow, that is) was able to meet us there on his lunch break.

  Here are The Marks talking about emu products or alpaca socks or something. I bought grass-fed specialty meats: Yak steaks, goat ribs, and pork bratwurst. I also got a beautiful deep teal colored emu egg. We're eating it tomorrow. Maybe all weekend. It's pretty big. TBG did get some alpaca socks and gloves. What we didn't get were beef empanadas! The guy was sold out before 1100, and less than an hour after the market opened. Looking at his empty display container, it appeared he hadn't made very many to begin with. We found some other delicious Mexican food to have, but I'm still a bit miffed about the empanadas.

So long, old friend! Thanks for the hospitality; let us return it and come for a visit here.

 On our way from Sierra Vista to New Mexico, we rolled through Tombstone and took a walk around. This is the original Cochise County courthouse. While we listened to a nice (Australian?!) lady speak about the yesteryear activities of the Birdcage Theatre and its floozies, I got to wondering why we keep old timey buildings in their old timey state instead of restoring them. Being old and tattered is not what they looked like in their time to the people of their time. I think it creates a false sense of what things were really like in the past. Anyhow, since it's now 2016, I bought a nice sweatshirt/t-shirt combo, which looks new because it is new.

Onward to Silver City, New Mexico!

We stayed in town at this RV park, and we were looking forward to their Lil' Orbits mini donuts before our morning walk around town. But the dough wasn't ready when they opened (!) so we set off, planning to get some on our return.

A unique feature of many southwest towns

is that

everything that can

be decorated


We also love that many of the freeway overpasses are beautifully adorned and all completely devoid of graffiti. Wonder what their secret is?

Another thing about the people in these towns is that they are extraordinarily friendly. Our first evening, we walked a couple blocks to the store, and I waited outside with my javelina while TBG went in. Almost every single person who entered/exited that store came over to talk to me and see/pet Zuli. One woman even asked if I needed her to hold onto the desert pig so I could go into the store. Every single person we passed on the street, with or without the pup, smiled and said hello. They speak of the "Seattle Freeze," and I always thought it was exaggerated because lots of folks here are perfectly friendly. The inhabitants of the southwest make an unexaggerated truth out of it, to be sure.

 Years ago, the townspeople made lemonade out of lemons when they spruced up the area known as Big Ditch Park. The big ditch was formed by a series of devastating floods in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Now 50+ feet deep, it is what used to be the town's Main Street.

This is the Warren House, the only surviving original structure along the old main street. That's me in my new Birdcage sweatshirt.

It's a nice park, although it is frequented by the town's transient population (also very friendly.) I wish we could've seen it with all the trees in leaf.

Here's a funny story. Because of the threats of flooding, the curbs in the town are very high. I had just read about this fact before we went for our walk. As we crossed the street, I was pointing and about to exclaim, "Hey! There is one of those really high curbs I just read about!" when I tripped directly on it and smashed to my hands and knees. I cried right there on the street like a big, fat baby. In my defense, it stung my hands and scuffed my new hiking pants and wrenched my shoulder, but mostly it injured my pride.
Sure, it's funny now.

 I broke my rule about taking pictures of food to show you a few of the mini donuts with their maple dipping sauce. They were tasty, but later on this trip we saw another place that sold Lil Orbits, and they were way puffier than these onion-ring looking things.

Another funny story: While I was waiting for my baker's dozen of donuts, an elderly gentleman who appeared to be a regular in the little RV coffee shop, asked me, "Ma'am, are ya new to the area?" When I told him I was, he regaled me with stories of some of the local attractions and even waited patiently, brochure in hand, while I paid to show me which rocks to look for specifically on the next leg of our journey. He also told me, when I asked where I might see a javelina, that some folks eat 'em, but he didn't think they were very tasty. I assured him I just wanted to look at one this time around.

Between Silver City and our final destination of Las Cruces, we had another overnight stay planned.

Again with that deceptive long-range view! Our destination is in this picture, but you'd never, ever know it.

Here it is! Things are about to get very cool.

Appreciating yet another level site. All of the sites are named for the planets and different astrological symbols. After dark, it all makes perfect sense.

We were there early enough in the day to take our hike around the Hydra trail, which was to be just over 3 miles. There is a trail to the top of that peak you see in the distance, but we weren't planning on that part for this day. 

Roadrunner watching out for Wile E.

It was quite warm in the open desert. Here we are having a water break at the only bench by the only tree/bush along the trail. I cannot for the life of me understand how this tree/bush lives where it does, but apparently the parks people are pretty confident it's not going anywhere since they put a bench here. Something nice (and dangerous) about the lack of humidity is that you sweat, but you don't get sweaty since the air snatches all the moisture off you as soon as you can make it. Eventually, I'm sure that will bother my vanity, but for now, it was so pleasant to hike and not be drenched.

About halfway through the hike, the javelina reverted back to an old, tired dog, and needed some assistance back to the RV. The park is laid out in such a manner, that we were able to cut directly back through the middle of the circle of the hike to get her back.

On the shortcut back, we passed through the primitive campground (ours had electric and water.) These were the coolest campsites ever, nestled in the rocks. They looked like exactly where a parks department would tell people not to pitch a tent or park a camper. If you look closely, you can see a post in the center of this picture. That indicates a campsite.

After safely stowing the tuckered-out pup in the air-conditioned RV, we set out to finish the trail from the opposite direction.

There wasn't anything in bloom just yet, darn it.

I hath posed by this Yucca plant.

Along the way, there were these shelters. They made me laugh because, as the Earth moves, of course, the shaded area moves, and every bench we passed was in the sun. You'd have to go off the trail, which you're not supposed to do, to get in the shade if you needed it.

 Another view of the upper campground. If you click on it, you can spot a camper parked in there on the left side. I fear we didn't get any good photos of how great these spots really were.


Another one of those crappy sunsets. After the sun was down, the stars came out to play. All the stars you'd ever want to see with the naked eye. It was also fun to look at the moon through the binoculars. Some campers up in the Pegasus campground were watching a movie, using the rocks as their screen, like a giant drive-in movie. How clever was that?! I tried to see what movie it was through the binoculars, but I couldn't quite tell.

One of the camp hosts, Wayne, a photography teacher from Michigan, took a sunrise photo of us (with our camera, of course; his would've been much nicer!) He also showed us video he took the evening before of the great horned owls mating on the rocks. So awesome!

Oddly, for a state that is so dry, water is free at the state parks, not just at the campsite we had, but also in the showers. On my way down to take one, I stopped in a little garden area where the camp hosts fill the bird feeders. I saw several very fat quail, lovely purple finches, and a rabbit that had hopped up into one of the stone fountains for a drink. Had we known how spectacular this park was, we may have spent another night here.

But it was time to get to our final destination. Viva Las Cruces! We started the day at the LC Farmer's Market, which was more like a handmade goods market,with little to no produce yet for the season. All I bought was some pistachio and mild green chile brittle. Even though we couldn't restock our dwindling produce, the market gave us a good idea of what's available around LC since many of the vendors were from local restaurants, bakeries, etc.

The section of the city the market sets up in is really pretty. As we strolled along we noticed this theatre with an adorable courtyard. I have always absolutely loved the adobe courtyards, and combined with a theatre, well I wanted to stand there until it opened for a show. TBG went back to the RV to check on the pup, and I waited in line for grass-fed burgers and sweet potato fries from a food truck. Back at the RV, I found TBG chatting with two retired ladies who have lived in LC a long time, one had even been a traveling nurse before she retired! They were a wealth of information about the area and happily answered all the questions we could think to ask them. Both couldn't speak highly enough about living there, which was music to our ears.

Since we really needed some fruit and vegetables, we made a stop at the grocery store before heading to the RV park. That was in our plans anyway so that we could check out prices and selection in the area.

 The RV park wasn't very scenic, but it was a very well-appointed park, with great amenities. One of those amenities was cable t.v. and our stay there just happened to coincide with the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead. Lucky, eh? Normally, t.v. isn't something we do much on vacation, but since we don't get cable at home, this was a vacation treat! Speaking of zombies, I've decided that other than a water problem, the desert is a pretty perfect place to ride out the zombie apocalypse. You can see for miles and everything in the desert is pokey and would make great zombie-catchers.

The next morning, we set off on foot and sans pup to explore Old Mesilla, the historic section of Las Cruces.

TBG saw this and thought it was so funny. BIG SALE. I rather fancy that rooster.

The oldest brick building in New Mexico.

Click and read about it -- it's interesting and tragic!

Oh, oh, oh, a secret-looking courtyard through a fence. I was going to walk in there, but TBG stopped me. I say it would've been OK. This is friendlyville, remember?

It was Sunday and services were being held. The tolling of the bells was beautiful.

The little doors are just my size.

Billy the Kid was also my size, but meaner.

The best seat in town. 
After our Valentine's morning walk, we met with another realtor to see some houses in the area. She was a real gem, understood our plan perfectly, and was a fountain of information. We now have a very good idea of just where we want to be and how to get there from here.

Before my zombie show aired and because it was Valentine's Day, we strolled over to this place close to the RV park that we had seen advertising gelato. When we arrived, the sign on the door said it was closed to further patrons, but we're smarter than that and asked for gelato to go. There was no one sitting out on their patio - why was no one sitting out on their patio? The weather was perfect! -- so we had it all to ourselves and our gelato. Sweet!

The rest of the evening was spent dithering on whether to stay one more night in the guaranteed warmth or keep to our original plans to start heading back via a few more points of interest. The points of interest won out, and fortunately, we weren't completely done with the sun.

When I first started planning this trip, I came across a little place called Pie Town actually named because of pie. It has four pie shops, and little else, and people come from all over to eat pie there. How could we not?

 Only two of the four pie shops were open this time of year, and this is the first one we came to, located in an old original homestead. I couldn't wait to try some famous Apple Green Chile pie!

Here we are enjoying our pie, but she was out of Apple Green Chile. Harumph! I had German Chocolate and TBG had peach. Mine was okay (crust was overdone), his, he says, was great. I did buy a pie mix package from the owner to make my own Apple Green Chile pie.

The only other open pie shop in town. We decided what the hell, it's vacation and we can have only pie for lunch if we want to. All two of us gathered at The Gatherin' Place for a second helping of pie. 

I was hopeful when we went in and the lady said she was just taking a new round of pies out of the oven. What kinds, we eagerly asked. She started to name them off, and I was certain the signature pie was going to be named, but no. Sadly, I was not going to get Apple Green Chile this trip. Maybe the cherry had chile in it, I asked? No, plain cherry.

Here we are with our pie for dessert after pie for lunch, me with (plain) cherry, him with mixed berry, hot from the oven with a double-scoop of vanilla. I liked these pies much better, but TBG said the peach was the best. I couldn't finish mine and saved it for later.

While I was disappointed to not get New Mexico's signature pie in Pie Town for crying out loud, the different crusts led to a nice RV drive conversation in which I told TBG everything I knew about pie crust. (I just remembered that I need to revisit the difference between baking soda and baking powder. Do you know without looking it up?)

Since we're not above doing completely dorky tourist things, we also stopped in Winslow, AZ.

 Such a fine sight to see. I just now noticed the eagle in this mural. The shop on the other corner was blasting Eagles music through outdoor speakers. As good as their music is, can you imagine working anywhere near here and having to hear it over and over and over again all day long?

Sittin' on the corner in  Wins -- oh, dammit!!!

That's more like it.

Our last fun stop was to be the next day, and we put up at the Flagstaff KOA. Having heard such great things about KOAs, this one was a bit run-down, however the worker-guy was super nice and we did get all the amenities for a discount. We needed the full hookup because we woke up to 30 degree temps. We knew it would warm up quickly, though, and we drove north to see something I'd never seen before.

 Like when I saw Mount Rushmore for the first time, I burst into tears when I saw the canyon of grandness. I don't know why I do that. 

Mather Point.

Me on Mather Point. If I could have seen where I was actually standing while I was standing there, I would have died on the spot. It makes me a little faint just to look at this.

 He's not scared. He would've stood there even without rails.

As we were walking along, this beautiful buck leaped onto the path between small groups of visitors and into the median grasses. This was the only photo I could get, however, because some visitor from another country (who either couldn't read the signs about park wildlife or chose to ignore them) thought it was funny to chase after this animal, frightening it away. Both of us were so angry we confronted and yelled at the guy. I rarely want to actually hit a person, but I really wanted to smack that guy. 

Walk away. Walk away...

 We did walk away along the South Rim Trail where pups are welcome. Look how excited she is to see the big hole!

Selfie. Threesie? 

TBG said, "Take a picture looking out this way," then proceeds to photobomb it. Goob.

We took some nice people's photo for them, so they took one for us. The canyon looks fake, doesn't it? Like a painted Hollywood background. It kind of does in person, too.

Javelinas love Sno-Cones!

This concludes the happy vacation portion of our presentation. 

The next few days involved a lot of driving, temps up to 89 degrees somewhere between Kingman, AZ and Barstow, CA, where we stopped for the night, a brief stop later the next day again in Weed, CA to fuel up and shove some pizza in our faces so we could push through the Siskiyou Pass in a torrential downpour and 60mph winds to avoid the darkness and snow that was coming, a stopover in Central Point, OR to sleep for the night, then home through a world the color of cement all the way. 

A couple nice things on the way home were all the beautiful wildflowers that had sprung up along the highways through California and all the little spring lambs in the fields throughout Oregon.

Thanks, Big Guy, for doing all that driving and keeping us safe.
 Best Valentine Ever.
When do we move?