For having stayed in the same location for the first two weeks of March, we still managed to do and see quite a bit during the month, both while we were at Desert Haven Animal Refuge in Williamsburg, NM, and in our travels when we left there.
One Sunday early in March, we made a day trip to just north of Albuquerque, to visit with friends Ken and Cheryl, whom we hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Cheryl at one time bred Saint Bernards. We met them when we got Sebastian, our male Saint, from them years ago. As a thank you for the meal they were preparing for us, we had bought a bottle of Syrah wine. What a surprise to see they not only had the same brand and size bottle, but it was a Syrah. What a coincidence after all these years that we have the same taste in wine!
The Sunday before we pulled out of there, Eliana, with the help of Leo and Diana, arranged for our group, nicknamed the Desert Dawgs, to visit the Rafter Spear Ranch, a working cattle ranch, located about 74 miles from the refuge. There were six vehicles, with Leo in the lead. The ranch is located on the way to Beaverhead, so we drove to Winston, stopped at the general store for a pit stop, then continued onto Highway 52 rather than turn down the road to Chloride. The scenery was awesome as always. The last 18 miles were quite interesting and at times rather challenging. Luckily, Dixie was driving her 4WD Tracker rather than us in our truck. There were a couple of sections of that road we would have left part of a fender behind trying to squeeze through. This was a forest road, not very well maintained, washed out in some places, rocks, rocks and more rocks, potholes, and a stream that kept meandering back and forth across the road, sometimes as much as over a foot deep. We found out that Leo had left his directions home and after taking a wrong turn at a Y, we stopped shortly afterwards while he went on ahead to check out the road, only to return to tell us trees were down ahead and we had to turn back. Luckily, after we managed to all turn around in the forest and were headed out, we met a pickup truck whose passenger had a map, giving Leo directions to the ranch. Back to the other turn at the Y and onto our destination. All the while we’ve been traveling, the road has been climbing – altitude was now close to 7000’ and the temperature cooler than when we left the refuge – typical for this area.
We finally arrived at the Rafter Spear Ranch and met the Schnebergers who make their living out there as cattle ranchers. The children are home schooled – one daughter is on the dean’s list at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and is living there. Another daughter. Ivy, 16 years old, is still there as is her 7-year-old brother Miles who delighted in giving Gwyn, one of our group, a personal tour. They depend on solar and a small windmill for power; they have satellite internet which provides the needed correspondence classes for the home schooled students; they have a landline telephone, as long as local bears don’t chew up the cables; and they have indoor plumbing, which was being finicky the day we were there – luckily, the outhouse was quite functional. There are bears, mountain lions, coyotes and wolves in the area but the family takes precautions against the predators. We spotted a small herd of elk on the return trip. The scenery surrounding their homestead was spectacular. They were nestled in a small valley with a pretty imposing rock bluff overlooking their property on one side.
Matt Schneberger grew up there as a child and has raised his family there. Laura told us that they go into town once a month to stock up on groceries, sometimes twice. That one stretch of dirt road is grueling and takes as much time to cover those 18 miles as it does the final 50 miles on paved road. Ivy will be allowed to date once she leaves home permanently but in the meantime, she looks forward to getting together with her friends at the 4H meetings. She also has a friend her age within bike riding distance.
Laura fixed hot chocolate and coffee, which were most welcome as the wind was starting to pick up and clouds were moving in. We enjoyed a picnic lunch outdoors enjoying the scenery, and then we packed everything up and headed home.
Coincidentally, the two men that had given us directions on Sunday when we made that wrong turn ended up getting stuck in that area nearby and had been stranded there overnight. Once our group confirmed that their truck fit the description of the truck being looked for, the search was narrowed down and they were found. How strange that our paths crossed and their helping us, helped them.
Some final words on Desert Haven. After a couple of farewell wine and cheese parties, dinners and breakfasts (we all did like to eat!), we said our goodbyes to both our two-legged and four-legged friends. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the rest of the members of our Dream Team, but it was time for us to move on.
Our first destination was Deming, New Mexico, staying at Dreamcatcher RV Park, an Escapee park. After we got set up and had lunch, we drove into town to visit the Deming-Luna Mimbres Museum. The museum is owned and operated by the Luna County Historical Society and it is packed with displays on Indian pottery, dolls, china and glassware, ranch and farm equipment, gems and minerals galore, saddles and tack – and much, much more. Unfortunately, we got there at 3 pm and they close at 4. We rushed through the rest of the building after we located the exhibit on the now-closed Deming Army Air Field, where Lucille’s father was stationed back during World War II. Other than the few exhibits located at the museum, very little remains of Deming Army Air Field. We were directed to where some of the original hangars are located, as well as some old army barracks buildings.
One afternoon, we went to the Saint Clair Winery in Deming and enjoyed tasting several of their wines. They have four different labels, each geared towards a specific demographic type. One is for the European taste, one is for the American, one for Spanish and we’ve forgotten what # 4 is. Their port was actually very good but out of our budget. Most ports have cognac added to them which make them really strong tasting but this was pure wine, aged 10 years. They have a chocolate port due out any day now, which should be interesting. And they ship! That could be dangerous! Larry really enjoyed their Syrah so he bought a bottle.
We got back to the RV to find that Donna and Loren, friends we made at the Guyton, GA, Habitat build, had arrived on their way to a Tucson build. It was great to see them after so many months. During our stay together, we enjoyed a couple of happy hours and dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. What a great lifestyle to meet so many neat people, then have the opportunity to meet with them again, somewhere down the road.
While in the Deming area, we visited several state parks. Pancho Villa State Park is in Columbus, about 35 miles south of Deming. This state park was named to commemorate the Mexican revolutionary who on March 9, 1916, led his troops on an attack of Columbus. U.S. General John “Black Jack” Pershing led a ‘Punitive Expedition’ to track Villa and his bandits but was unsuccessful. Ruins of Camp Furlong, as the U.S. military encampment was called at the time, are found within the park, including historic military equipment and vehicles from the early 20th century. Pershing’s expedition was the last time the U.S. would use mounted cavalry and the first time a U.S. military operation would use motorized trucks and planes. Columbus was the birthplace of using air equipment as a military force, thus paving the way when the U.S. entered World War I. It was surprising to learn that our current air force got its beginnings from such a humble start.
Spring Canyon State Park is a day-use area located in the rugged Florida Mountains. Florida, by the way, is Spanish for flower. Mexican gold poppies were blooming profusely in that area. The road accessing this park has a 17% grade – the steepest we’ve been on so far and certainly not a road to be towing anything.
Rockhound State Park, also found in the Florida Mountains, is unique in that it encourages visitors to take rock samples from the park, with a limit of 15 pounds per person. Some of the rocks and minerals that can be found within the park – silica, quartz crystals, agate, common opal, and geodes. We took a short hike that overlooked the valley. We were surrounded by a variety of beautiful wildflowers in bloom and several species of cactus.
Our next overnight stop was 120 miles away, at Willcox, AZ. As soon as we got set up, we left to visit Chiricahua National Monument. Located about 60 miles southeast of Willcox, AZ, Chiricahua has to be seen – words and photos cannot adequately convey its beauty and uniqueness. Chiricahua is an insolated mountain range rising out of the surrounding grasslands, nicknamed a ‘sky island’. Formed by ash spewing from a volcano 27 million years ago, ‘the ash particles melted together, forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite. Cooling and subsequent uplifting created joints and cracks in the rhyolite. Eons of weathering by ice wedging and erosion by water enlarged the cracks. Weaker material was washed away leaving behind an endless variety of spires, balanced rocks, and other shapes. This sculpting by the forces of nature continues today.’ We drove the scenic eight-mile drive to Massai Point, elevation 6870’. Several times on the drive up, we stopped the truck, hopping out to take pictures of a spectacular formation, only to find another one equally spectacular around the next bend. Once at the top, we donned warm jackets, gloves and hats while the wind blew, the sun was shining, and snow flurries were swirling around us. The scenery was awesome, with a 360-degree view of formations around us. We hiked part of the Echo Canyon Trail, looking for the grottoes recommended by the visitor center. Several other people were on the same path but with the switchbacks amongst the formations, you didn’t hear anyone else until you actually passed on the path. It was beautiful, awesome and very peaceful, and well worth the 120 mile round trip from our campsite in Willcox.
The next day we got on the road again, stopping for several days at the military campground at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Tucson. The campground was full so we parked in the overflow area, deciding to stay there rather than move to a full hookup site when available. The weather was pleasant, there was plenty of room to walk Shelley, and the few RVs there were scattered with plenty of room between you and your neighbor.
One of our fellow campers at Davis-Monthan recommended we purchase a Tucson passport for $15. Dozens of local attractions are represented in this passport with buy one get one free coupons. We quickly got our money back after visiting just two places. The first was Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Located just west of Tucson, the museum is also on the same road as Old Tucson and Saguaro National Park-West.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden, all in one location. The weather was ideal for strolling on their trails through the facility. Most exhibits are outdoors with a few indoors, such as those housing the reptiles, a limestone cave, and fish exhibits. Because the weather was so nice and the wildflowers blooming, there were crowds everywhere. A quieter time of the year would have had fewer visitors but we would have missed the wildflowers and blooming cactus.
We really enjoyed Saguaro National Park. This national park consists of two districts: Saguaro West and the much larger Saguaro East. We had driven through the East district years ago, so this time we headed for Saguaro West. We were treated to a surprise after viewing a short film in the visitor’s center. After the film, the projection screen retracted, revealing a huge bay window overlooking the Sonoran Desert – spectacular. We walked the short nature trail around the visitor center and started to learn the names of the cactus found in that area, as well as identifying some of the birds flying about. We took the six-mile Bajada Loop Drive, stopping to hike the Valley View Overlook Trail and what a view of the mountains and the desert! We then drove on to Signal Hill, site of several petroglyphs within viewing distance of the trail.
The second coupon redeemed from our Tucson passport was a visit to the Titan Missile Museum, just 20 minutes south of Tucson, in Sahuarita, AZ. Fifty-four Titan II missile sites were constructed during the Cold War as a deterrent for nuclear war, at a cost of over $8 million apiece. There were 18 each in Arizona, Arkansas and Missouri. They stood on alert 24 hours a day, 7 days week, all year, for almost 19 years before the last one was decommissioned in 1987 by then President Reagan. This museum is the only site open to the public, offering an optional tour into the silo, besides the exhibits in the museum. This tour was well worth the hour spent listening to our guide telling us about the logistics of building and maintaining the Titan II missile. We were slightly overwhelmed by all the facts he was dispensing – he had a tight time schedule and asked that we hold questions till we were back above ground, to avoid delaying tours scheduled after ours. By the time we surfaced, any questions we had were forgotten – so much information in so little time. When the missile was still active, a crew of four, working a twelve-hour shift, manned it. Except for the sleeping quarters and kitchen area, a crewmember was always accompanied by another for reasons of safety and security. Safety should he or she get hurt – hard hats were required, even for those of us touring; security should someone want to sabotage part of the system. We cannot imagine working down there, just waiting to press that button should the need arise.
On the way back from the museum, we made a quick stop at San Xavier de Bac Mission, known as the White Dove of the Desert. It is startling to be driving by on I-19 and look west to see this beautiful white building, rising up from the desert. Finished in 1797 by Franciscan fathers, it is a fine example of mission architecture in the U.S. One tower was never completed and the reason why remains a mystery. Currently the mission is undergoing restoration work to clean, repair and preserve as much of the church as possible. This is still an active church located on the San Xavier Indian Reservation.
Our last stop during our whirlwind tour of the Tucson area was taking the AMARC Tour commonly known as the Boneyard. The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) is located on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base but the tour leaves from the Pima Air and Space Museum. All military aircraft, whether fixed wing or rotor, no matter which branch of the military, usually pass through or end up at this facility. When possible, aircraft is refurbished, using parts that have been salvaged. Some of the aircraft no longer being used in active service can be sent to museums elsewhere or to training facilities to be used as targets. Some of the aircraft and parts may no longer be used by the U.S. military but are still in use by foreign countries. Parts are salvaged, stored in inventory, and made available for sale to these countries if needed. The majority of our hour tour was viewing hundreds of aircraft on display, all from the comfort of our bus. Because of security reasons, no one was allowed to disembark while we were on the base. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the aircraft on display, throwing in some interesting factoids about some of them.
We left Tucson for a short stop in Glendale, just west of Phoenix, where we had our solar system installed. We can now use the sun to charge our batteries to run almost everything electrical in the RV, except for the air conditioner, when we are either dry camping or are being charged extra for electricity at a campground. We anticipate getting a lot of use out of our solar system with our travels but especially with our upcoming Alaska trip.
Again, we reaped the benefit of this wonderful lifestyle. We met Tom and Janet, friends we made in Huntsville, AL, just before we all hit the road, for lunch at a Cracker Barrel as they were heading out of Mesa for FL. We were glad we were able to connect up with them and enjoyed visiting, albeit short.
That same day, Barry and Judy, one of the couples with whom we worked at Desert Haven and with whom we enjoyed several adventures, came by the RV for a short happy hour before we all headed out to dinner. They’ve been in the Phoenix area since we saw them last, enjoying the Cubs’ spring training games.
After our solar system was up and running, we then moved into a Ramada Inn and RV Park campground just three miles up the road in Peoria and just a few miles from where Lucille’s brother Roger and his wife Kathie live in Sun City. After we got set up, we ran by to say hi to Roger. Kathie was at work that evening but we’d see her the next day. They are both ER nurses with hectic schedules so it’s a treat to see them when they have some time off.
The next day, we went to Goldfield Ghost Town with Roger, Kathie, Roger’s son Stevie, and their friend Carmen. We arranged to meet Barry & Judy there. Goldfield, located on the east side of Phoenix, overlooking the Superstition Mountains, is an authentic ghost town with reconstructed buildings, re-enacted shootouts, a bordello, a wedding chapel and a mine tour. We had hoped to go on a horseback ride through the desert but all the horses were out so we opted for a carriage ride to a nearby mine to hear a talk from a geologist. The ride was interesting but too short and the talk too long. The geologist really knew his stuff but most of it was way over our heads. We learned more about rock fissures, striations and such than we could absorb. After about 30 minutes of listening to him, we suffered the TEGO Syndrome (The Eyes Glaze Over). After lunch at Goldfield, we said our goodbyes to Barry & Judy whom we hope to see at the Escapees’ Fall Escapade in Illinois late September. We brought Stevie back home, and then visited with Kathie’s daughter Roxie and family for a few minutes before heading back home. On the way, we stopped at Radio Shack to surprise Russell (Roger’s oldest son) at work. It’s been quite awhile since we’ve seen both boys – they’re growing too quickly into young men.
For Easter Sunday, we invited Roger and Kathie to join us for a quickly planned meal before Kathie had to report for work. The following day, Roger took us on an easy hike up at Waterfall Canyon Trail at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, just outside of the Phoenix area. There were lots of petroglyphs, not too many people.
That’s all folks, for March--a very busy month both with visiting family and sightseeing.
Next stop: Dolan Springs, AZ to visit with long-time friends Buddy & Sally, then on to Lake Havasu and Quartzsite before we head to California for a couple of weeks.