Up at 6 am MST (temp a freezing 23F) at our Carlsbad Caverns CG. We slept snug in our nest with the heater on all night, like being wrapped in a warm cocoon. But, now it's time to make tracks for home... the long haul across Texas. I told Jimmy last night that after seeing Carlsbad Caverns, I was ready to go home - that was the piece d’resistance. From Carlsbad we "galloped" southeast on secondary roads thru the towns of Pecos, Ft Stockton, and Sanderson, aiming for Del Rio. And this was some very barren-looking country, dry and devoid of animals and birds. A surprise was crossing the Pecos River and seeing a deep channel full of water. Soon after that we spotted deer and birds. We shifted drivers every couple of hours so as to not be hypnotized by the long, straight-as-an-arrow (and let's face it: boring) highway. Passed by Del Rio and on Hwy 90 [due east], we found a nice CG in Bracketville - Historic Fort Clark. Tomorrow night we'll be at Nannie & Bubba's in Baton Rouge, and on Sunday, we'll be home. At least that's the current plan! Home. For a little while.... What a terrific trip this has been: Mountains, desert, seashore, city lights, caverns, museums - and, of course, Christmas with Matt. We enjoyed it all!
Jimmy reports to work Feb 4th in St Marks, FL again, so we need to move on. We drove to Douglas AZ, parked the RV in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and walked across the border to Agua Prieta... for a look-see. Didn't see much to interest us, except a lovely Catholic Church. We were back in the RV within an hour, and on our way toward NM. The scenery was spellbinding, esp when we ran next to the Chiricahua Mtns. Golden grasses swayed in the tailwind as we rolled along. We ate our lunch in full view of what looked like the lord of the high plains: 9,795' Mt. Chiricahua. An ultralight plane wheeled and circled in the sky, nodding to us as one of the few travelers on the road. A few miles down the hwy, we spotted the ultralight home base and turned in. Over coffee we talked to the same pilot - he offered to take me up, and if we hadn't been pressed for time, I would've donned a flight suit and hit the heavens to fly over these colorful plains and mtn canyons... next time. We left the Arizona-Sonora desert reluctantly.... Besides, Jimmy said he hoped to stumble up on a gold nugget on one of our hikes. I said, no fooling? Too bad, no gold!! Ah, we'll just have to return....
Spent the night at Leesburg Dam St Park, above Las Cruces NM, where we camped on our 2nd night out this trip - full circle! Cold, cloudy, windy night, and 25F at dawn (see photo).
Our last place to visit is Carlsbad Caverns - had to take the southern route thru El Paso, due to snow in the mtn passes near Alamogordo. The sun finally broke thru and we warmed to 40F. Spotted mule deer and antelopes playing, drove past the salt flats (above), and into Guadalupe Nat'l Pk, where bits of snow remained in the shade.
It isn't easy to describe Carlsbad Caverns as it defies description. We spent three hours deep underground, oohing and aahing at its beauty and its size. We followed the one-mile natural entrance route that descends over 750' into the earth following steep, narrow trails. Then we continued on the one-mile, self-guiding tour around the perimeter of the largest room in the cave: Highly decorated and immense - 8.2 acres! Mammoth Caves was terrific and Kartchner Caverns which we just saw was a wonder, but this place... this place is the treasure of them all. Incomparable cave formations and decorations are presented at every turn. It's a good thing there's a hand rail the whole distance, because it's not possible to walk and gawk at the same time. Pardon the word, but these caverns are awesome.
The caverns are a sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of free-tailed Mexican bats. They're smart little guys, as they've flown the cavern coop down to old Mexico where it's got to be warmer. It's 28F at 8 pm in our small CG near the caverns. The bats will return in spring. The sorry news is that we didn't take a camera or a flashlight with us, as neither was permitted in the other caves, but both were allowed here. Sorry, no photos, but I bet the internet can provide excellent shots of this "Chamber of Wonders."
After leaving the desert museum in Tucson, we drove east to Benson, and made it to Kartchner Caverns, and the state park CG where we'll stay, by late Sun afternoon. We caught a video on the caverns' discovery at the Discovery Ctr before it closed, and then bought tickets for two different guided tours for Monday morning. As we were up early enough to watch the sunrise, Jimmy took this photo from our "bedroom" window. Gorgeous sunrise, but brrrr.... Can't show you any pictures of the caverns, as cameras are not permitted. Kartchner Caverns is an underground wonder! Still growing, one water drop at a time, it is considered a rare, wet limestone cavern. Discovered in 1974, the caverns contain more than 30 types of colorful formations growing for more than 200,000 yrs out of the limestone beneath the Whetstone Mountains. The formations are simply breathtaking.
A classic motto!
We left Kartchner on Tuesday morning, aiming southeast toward Bisbee AZ, with a stop first at Tombstone, where we walked the lonely streets, long empty of Wyatt Earp and the Wild West. Jimmy had a cup of coffee to ward off the chilly AM and paused for a photo-op under a pertinent (election year) sign! The Cochise County Courthouse is an imposing structure, and now a museum. We had to visit Boothill Graveyard, and snap a few shots of the tombstones. My favorite is Lester Moore's epitaph.
From there we "ambled" down to the surprisingly pretty town of Bisbee tucked into the hills. We pulled into the Queen Mine RV Park, adjacent to the Queen (underground) Mine. Bisbee was Queen of the Copper Camps in the 1880's. (East and south of town are unbelievably deep open pit mines still operational.) I threw a chicken into the crockpot and off we trotted to enjoy a mine train tour that took us a quarter mile into the mountain, after donning yellow slickers & helmets equipped with miner's lights. We all looked, uh, uniformly goofy. The tour, far from being scary, was both entertaining and educational, thanks to our 87-year-old ex-miner, droll tour guide/driver named Juan! I can't remember how many million pounds each of copper, gold, silver, and lead were extracted from Bisbee mines. Literally: TONS. We toured the Historical Museum now housed in the lovely old Phelps, Dodge headquarters, esp admiring the beautiful mineral "gems" unearthed from the various Bisbee mines. We closed the museum at 5 pm and walked up the street to eat at Santiago's - a muy delicioso dinner. Crockpot chicken will be just fine tomorrow! Another fantastico day!!
An agave (century plant) that mimics the world's largest asparagus spear. The white stick measures the stalk's upward progress (over 10' at this time).
After a comfy overnight stop at a west Tucson RV park (happily with laundry facilities), we paid a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Our plan was to spend a couple of hours here and then tour the Arizona State Museum (both in Tucson). But the desert museum had too much to offer and kept us entertained for many hours! Never made it to the state museum! This desert museum exhibits more than 300 live animal species, and almost two miles of paths led us through landscapes with over 1,300 species of plants indigenous to the Sonoran Desert region, including agave (who knew there were so many varieties?), grasses, and cactus. We even saw a boojum tree. The ocelot in the picture is real (and beautiful) and so is the agave next to it.
We had a delightful time and left reluctantly, on the road east to Kartchner Caverns and the state park campground.
On our continuing homeward drive, we pushed the RV on a little side tour: a 12-mile trek up to Kitt Peak National Observatory. Located on the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation, Kitt Peak (at 7,000') is home to twenty-four optical telescopes and two radio telescopes representing dozens of astronomical research institutions - the largest collection of astronomical telescopes in the world! (whoa - not just one puny telescope!) We were fortunate enough to tour the McMath-Pierce solar telescope, the 2.1 meter, and the 4 meter telescopes. Spent the whole afternoon gawking. What a national treasure this is, and open to the public! Coasted all the way down the mountain...!
Left Anaheim Tues and traveled to Salton Sea (227' below sea level) and spent that night camped between a smelly inland sea and heavily-traveled railroad tracks. A massive fish kill a while back accounted for part of the smell, the rest due to a salty landlocked body of water. Lovely sunset, tho. So be it. We moved on early the next morning and got as far as the copper town of Ajo AZ that night. Found a nice quiet CG in this small town and ate a fine Mexican dinner in a local restaurant. Fine dinner! On Thursday, we attended 8 am Mass at Immaculate Conception Church and lit a votive for my brother Bill, who was undergoing surgery.
Decided to head south to Organ Pipe Nat'l Monument, near the Mexican border, an excellent choice for us. What a place we found! Hadn't planned on even going here, but stayed two days & nights and wished we could've stayed longer. Lyn, you and Alan should fire up the pop-top and spend a wk here. It's a fascinating desert landscape, with an extraordinary collection of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. The brochure states that 28 cactus species live here, inc. huge saguaros and organ pipe. I don't know if we saw all 28, but I do know we saw many cacti varieties, including several of the - ouch - formidible cholla. The organ pipe is a large cactus common in Mexico, but found rarely in the US, most in this park. We took a lot of photos.
Thurs afternoon we took a 3-hr van tour on a 21-mile loop to 4,808' Mt Ajo, and a hike around the one-mile CG perimeter. Friday we hiked roughly 5 miles round trip to the Victoria Mine, an abandoned silver mine - wonderful hike. Ate trail mix at the old 1890's Levy store (see photos)being careful not to fall into any open pits. 45F temp when we started around 8ish and we peeled off layers as the day warmed to a sweet sunny 68ish. Later we replaced layers to hike the 3-mile round trip to the Visitor Center for an Audubon talk. We attended interesting and fun ranger programs @ 7 pm both evenings, dressed in jackets and hats and gloves. This desert is called the green desert as it receives rainfall in both winter and summer, and it certainly was green while we were there. Our camper was surrounded by cacti. Because it was winter, most animals were hibernating or had migrated elsewhere, but we did see small desert lizards, birds, (and a coyote on our way out of the park on Saturday). We want to go back to go back to Organ Pipe National Monument. Hey, Bill, this one's for you! Click on any photo to enlarge it.o
Disneyland! Packed a nice, healthy lunch (which went into a locker till we were ready), hopped on the fun bus to Disneyland, and spent most of the day there - a sunny day it was, too! It's great to be there on a winter weekday because there are no lines for the rides, hence no waiting. We rode them all, including twice on Space Mountain. Had a ball. Enjoyed our lunch sitting on a bench, with sparrows waiting for crumbs. At dusk, we took the bus back to the RV, and (all tuckered out) we hit the sack!
So-Cal, what a place! After lunch Friday with Matt and Jen in Santa Monica, we tooled on down the freeway for Anaheim. We camped in an RV "Resort" in Anaheim, within walking distance of Disneyland and California Adventure, but a free bus was offered, which we used gratefully. Saturday we took in California Adventure, rode the rides and stayed for the 8:45 pm Main Street Electric Parade and Disneyland fireworks at 9:15. Our favorite ride is "Soarin'."
We had a great day, despite rain clouds and coolish temps. We never did get rained on, tho the rain drops hit the RV roof after we got in that night - yay! On Sunday, long-time friend, Lyn, picked us up and we visited Bower's Museum (http://www.bowersculturalmuseum.com/), which I remember from years ago as a small interesting museum, but which has expanded to encompass much more (gems: wow!). From there we took in Whole Foods at the Tustin District (ate lunch), and then we "did" Ikea - all of it. Bought a few things, too. Lyn drove us thru the old Santa Ana neighborhood, which still looks good after all this time, with a stop at Harveys for a new purse for me (http://www.seatbeltbag.com/). We dodged a few raindrops, but nothing major. However, after we got in, rain fell on the roof most of the night!
So, we were running away from Monterey because of the nasty storm blowing this way, and we got as far south as Refugio State Beach, just north of Santa Barbara. Not knowing what to expect, we pulled in to see if it might be something we'd like, and discovered a small, fine state park on the beach - quiet and somewhat secluded all for $18/night! Right up our alley! We set up camp and went for a long walk on an all-but deserted sandy beach as there were few other campers. The camp host advised us that the campground might be closed the next night due to the storm. We assured him we'd be long gone! The sun setting thru palm trees was breathtaking, and the waves crashing on shore lulled us to sleep. Love beach campgrounds.