Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One More Stop

We arrived back in Mesa for the winter in early November, but we made one final stop on our way. We spent two weeks at our new lot in the Escapee Saguaro Park in Benson, Arizona.  Why would we buy into a park when we have a house in Mesa, you may ask?  Well, when we put our name on the list for a lot at Saguaro, we hadn't yet bought the house.  When our name approached the top of the list, we discussed whether we still wanted it.  The park is a co-op and the cost for a lot is a set amount, plus any improvements that have been done.  Most of the lots have buildings that range from shed size to a maximum of 288 square feet.  This casita on the lot behind us is a nice example.

Since one never knows what the future will bring, we decided to buy in.  We can always resell and by putting our lot in the rental pool, our maintenance fee should be covered.  But since we are not planning to spend much time there at this time, we held out for a completely empty lot.  Isn't it gorgeous?
It's between the bocce ball court and another empty lot, so it's very spacious.

From atop the water tower hill, Saguaro Park looks like it's in the middle of nowhere, but I swear downtown Benson is only a couple of miles away.

The surrounding terrain is pretty interesting.

We met lots of really nice people and participated in some of the activities.  We also volunteered with the landscaping committee.  It was quite a workout.

We were happily surprised to run into a friend who happened to stop at the park.  Nancy is a good friend from our WIN singles group.  You can follow her adventures here.

The three of us spent the big bucks to see nearby Kartchner Caverns.  I really resent that they don't allow cameras, so I had to buy postcards.  (Seems like a plot.)

It was pretty cool, although very expensive.  Nancy and I took the Rotunda/Throne Room tour, while Ron, who had already taken that one, picked the Big Room.  Each tour is $23.

The high point of our tour was seeing the 58-foot Kubla Khan column in the Throne room.
(There's a man in a red shirt standing at the base for size.)

The history of the caverns is pretty interesting.  Two men discovered it in 1974 and they, with the cooperation of the Karchtners, who owned the land, kept it a secret until the site was made a state park in 1988.  In 1999, the first section was opened to the public.  They did a wonderful job of keeping it from being damaged, making it fairly unique.

Speaking of discoveries, Ron found this waffle/donut in Benson.  Would that be a wafnut or a dofle? Either way, it was much better than the cronut (croissant/donut) we had in Wisconsin.

After an enjoyable two weeks we headed home to Mesa.  I couldn't resist snapping a picture of Picacho Peak out the front window.  It looks really scary from this angle.  Ron has climbed it three times and I did twice. The last time was with Carol and John and I posted about it here.  I don't think we'll be doing that again, although I'm glad they didn't close the park like they had planned to do because of budget cuts.

Almost as soon as we arrived home and unloaded the RV (my least favorite job), I flew to PA to visit my father.  He is doing great and we had a nice visit.  We took a day trip to Virginia to visit his newest great-grandaughter, Asha.  Diana's son Mark and his wife Carisa welcomed their little one six months ago.  She is such a good baby.  In the 3 1/2 hours we were there, she was awake the whole time and I don't think she cried once.  She is so interested in everything, but was especially enthralled by her great-grandfather.

Here's a picture I snapped with my phone.

But I really love this one that Mark took of my father, me and Asha.  She seems to be wondering what the heck is going on.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dog Canyon

For the final stop of our trifecta, we traveled another 50 miles to Oliver Lee State Park which is situated at the mouth of Dog Canyon.  Because they had experienced an unusual amount of rain, everything was green and plants were flowering out of season.

New Mexico State Parks are generally very nice, with widely spaced RV sites.  They are also very reasonably priced, which makes us happy.  We paid $10 for a site without hookups.  It's a few dollars more for hookups.

In the evening, we were treated to a soft pink tint on the mountains to the east . . .

Then the sky was painted a vibrant orange as the sun set over the Tularosa Valley.

The next morning, we were up and out early (for us) to hike up the canyon.  The trail goes 5.5 miles to the top of the mountain and if you have two vehicles, you can drive to that end in the national forest. But we were happy to just go until we were half tired.

The first 6/10 mile is steep, with a 600 foot elevation gain.  On the way, we had a good view of the campground.  That's us on the far left, parked happily away from any campfires.  (Actually, the other loop had the hookups.)

Now this is what I call a rock garden.

As promised, at 6/10 mile, the trail leveled out and was mostly a walk in the park with just a gradual elevation change.

It was really a wonderful hike, I would give it 5 stars, although I'm sure it can be blazing hot. Here's a shot looking back down the canyon.

After 1 1/2 miles, Ron decided to turn around, but I wanted to go just a bit farther and try to see the end of the canyon.  Sure enough, at mile 1 3/4, I got the view I was looking for.

Here's a close up of the end.

At that point, the trail descends some before, once again, climbing steeply, so I turned around.  On my way back, I zoomed in to catch a glimpse of White Sands National Monument in the distance.

In case you're wondering how I know exactly how far we hiked, this trail has mileage markers every 1/4 mile.  How cool is that?

To finish up New Mexico, we made our way to I 10, passing close to, but not stopping at, White Sands.  We were there before and I wasn't really impressed.  But it is an interesting phenomenon.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Only about 35 miles south of Valley of Fires was our next stop.  We almost didn't stop, thinking that we have seen so many petroglyphs, but it was right on our way.  We were glad we did.
(Ron wanted to know who counted the 20,000 petroglyphs.)

Like Valley of Fires, Three Rivers is run by the BLM and camping, with electricity, was only $9 with that magical Senior Pass.  On our way up the petroglyph trail, I snapped this picture of the tiny campground.

What I found interesting was that the petroglyphs were more detailed than most I've seen.  Certain ones of them were described in the trail guide, like this bighorn sheep with bent legs to depict motion.

And this mask.

Here the rock artist used a nodule on the rock as a bighorn sheep's eye.

The guide said this face was drawn with earrings.  I thought he just had big ears.

This is the best known and most photographed petroglyph.  The sheep is pierced by three arrows.

And of course there were lots of carvings not in the guide and open to our interpretation.  We thought this was a bird carrying a snake.

A very fancy fish.

A turtle standing on its hind legs?

Air raid shelter?

Alright, now I'm getting carried away, but they were everywhere.

We didn't see all 20,000, but had fun looking.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Valley of Fires

Our next three stops in New Mexico were a first-time visit for both of us and all were much more interesting than I anticipated.  The first was Valley of Fires Recreation Area.  The most recent lava flow through the Tularosa Basin was 1500 to 2000 years ago, recent in geological time.

I really liked how the campground was on a sandstone hill overlooking the massive lava field.  This is the view from our site.

This is the view off the other side of the hill.  You can see some lava on that side also.

Here are some statistics about this lava field.
Imagine, 44 miles long.

The next morning we hit the trail to take us right into the flow.  From the hilltop, there's no end in sight.  That's part of the campground on the left.

But to really appreciate it, we have to get down off our safe hill.  I was fascinated with the edge of the flow.  You can just imagine the surface lava cooling while the molten lava underneath continues to push against the crust.

We saw collapsed bubbles and lava tubes, like this one that went right under the trail.

It was much more interesting in person since pictures just don't do it justice.  

There's plenty of vegetation in that seemingly hostile environment. 

Including this juniper, estimated to be over 400 years old.

One thing that surprised me was that going off-trail was permitted.  I'm not sure how I feel about that. I love the idea of freedom to explore, but I worry about the possible damage. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Into New Mexico

Heading into New Mexico on US 285, we passed through some heavy smoke for about 25 miles.  We never did find out where the smoke was coming from, but luckily it cleared up by the time we reached one of our favorite boondocking spots.  About 35 miles south of the border, and just 3/10 mile east of the highway, there is a great spot on National Forest land (36.46601, -105.90892, at the turn.)  It's a nice peaceful spot in the middle of nowhere, but does have Verizon internet.  Here's a picture from when we were there a couple of years ago.

Past Santa Fe, we decided to continue south on state road 41. We found it to be not exactly the best road, but wanted to stop at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.  The monument is comprised of three pueblo sites and we decided to only stop at Gran Quivira because it seemed to have the most to see and was right on our way.  :-D

First we checked out the visitors center which was small, but interesting.

Then we walked around the grounds.  These pueblos were major trade centers.  Salt from nearby dry lake beds was an important commodity traded between Pueblo and Plains Indians. Gran Quivira grew from a cluster of pithouses 1200 years ago to a stone and adobe village with 2000 people.

The plaza was the heart of the pueblo.

In the 16th century, Spanish explorers came to New Mexico looking for riches.  They were disappointed.  But the Pope was not so easily dissuaded and charged the Spanish crown with Christianizing the natives.  In 1630, the first mission church was started at Gran Quivira.  The remains of the church is in the foreground, with the cemetery in the rear.

In 1659, work was begun on a new church.  Men of the pueblo carved and placed the wooden beams. How they did that, I don't know.

Here you can see more of the beams from the side view.

The new church was never completed and the pueblo was abandoned during the 1670s.  The theory is that this was due to raids by the Apaches, drought with wide-spread famine, and epidemics from introduced diseases.