Arizona, January 25 - March 1, 2016

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March 1st 2016
Published: March 1st 2016
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The first four weeks of this trip, we were mostly on familiar turf, so I had little new to write about. Then we moved to Ajo, formerly a copper mining town, with a lovely plaza in the town center. Next a few days in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in a nice campground though without any hookups, until John was "full up" with cactuses. A couple of days in Tucson to restock, and then on to Patagonia Lake State Park. The big news is that Susie's baby arrived on February 26 in Salida, Colorado. Her name is Eliza Reed Hines, and of course she is the most beautiful baby ever. We will go to meet her, probably just via car, in a few weeks.


Our trip back out to Arizona was memorable since everything went better than smoothly. There had been a gigantic snowstorm in the East the weekend before our Monday flight. The storm closed schools for several days in DC, and a week in Baltimore, etc. But there was not a single flake in Durham, so our flight from Manchester left right on schedule. No clouds below us as we approached Chicago, or over the Rockies and all the way into Phoenix, and the views were spectacular. Brother Johnny drove us to north Phoenix, where our stored RV and car both started right up and were none the worse for several months of sitting in the sun.

We spent a week at the RV park in north Phoenix, where our main new adventures were several hikes at Thunderbird Park, and a Sunday stroll in Old Town Scottsdale. The weather during our entire stay so far has been very warm, ten or more degrees above average, in the 80's and even reaching 90. In the desert, though, it cools off at night 30 -50 degrees, so the mornings are quite pleasant. And the low humidity necessitates consuming large amounts of water.

We did want to go north to places we like, so we spent several days with Cottonwood as a base. From there we drove 25 or so miles north through Sedona and up through gorgeous Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. The red rocks of Sedona with a background of snow on the top of the mountains near Flagstaff makes a spectacular sight. The sun made Flagstaff pleasantly warm that day, and we enjoyed our usual wandering around the town and watching the frequent trains charging through the center of town.

Another fun day was our trip back to Jerome, a wacky collection of homes, shops and restaurants perched on the side of a mountain. At the local museum, we learned a lot about the huge copper mining operation that had built the town. When the mine closed, the population dropped to far less than a hundred, but then was revived by an influx of artists and the development of tourism.

A brief stay in Johnny's driveway in Phoenix was subdued because Katy's foot had some broken bones and a soft boot. She was supposed to stay still with the foot raised, but that is very challenging for her.

We had met some people at a campground who raved about staying at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, so we decided to go there. We spent a few days in Ajo en route. It's another town which had had an enormous copper mining operation, but this time it was strip mining, and the town is overshadowed by a gigantic mountain of tailings. The mining company had built the town pleasantly for the laborers, with a lovely downtown plaza and pretty churches and schools. We visited another of those ubiquitous small history museums which dot this country, overflowing with relics and information, and manned by volunteers who love to share the stories. We do enjoy those.

The campground at the National Monument had concrete pads for the RV's and concrete patios, solar showers, no electric hookups although you could run generators a couple of times a day. And it had splendid views of the surrounding mountains. John and I took several hikes and drives in the area. One drive was 15 miles on a bumpy dirt road only a few hundred yards from the fence separating the park from Mexico to an oasis/spring, where we arrived just in time for a ranger's presentation about the amazing history of the area. The rare water source had been used by Indians, ranchers, early settlers, and many kinds of wildlife. The desert there is anything but barren. It is full of shrubs and cacti. So many different kinds of cacti. After another ranger presentation about the different cacti, John just about got to the point of "if I never see another cactus, I'll be happy..." Anyway, Organ Pipe Cacti have multiple parallel branches, and were so named by Mormon settlers. In the U.S., they only grow there, in far southern Arizona. The park is designated a biosphere and truly deserves a visit.

On the road to Tucson, we stopped at the one town on the 120 mile stretch, exactly midway. It is inhabited by Tohono O'odham Indians, and we were the only non-native Americans we saw there. A superficial impression was that there were many social service agencies, and too much fried food.

In Tucson, we stayed at Mission View RV Park, which is quite a nice place for longterm snowbirds. It is actually on the San Xavier Indian reservation, and you can see that beautiful white mission building as you drive near there. We had visited the mission previously, as well as Tucson, so were naughty and did not actually do much at all while we were there. It was "enough" to receive the news that Eliza Hines had been born, and we celebrated with a bottle of champagne. She arrived eleven days after the due date, seven pounds and so sweet. So the Mengers balance is at last tipped - John and I had five daughters and one son, five grandsons and one granddaughter. It was fun not knowing in advance whether it would be a girl or a boy.

Many years back, John and I stayed in a very unpleasant motel in Nogales, Arizona, after a day across the border in Nogales, Mexico. The next morning, as we headed east to quirky Bisbee, AZ, we came to Patagonia and stopped for a coffee in a small, funky, interesting restaurant. Patagonia seemed like heaven to us at that time, and ever since has been special to us. We went into town yesterday, and it has remained pretty much the same charming place. Lots of colorfully painted small houses and artist galleries. Specialty food stores. Theaters, an opera house being built. All this in a very small area. More coffee shops than the one we enjoyed long ago.

We are staying for a few days at Patagonia Lake State Park, several miles west of town. The lake is large, manmade, for recreation. A variety of camping spots, from large RV spaces to places accessible only by boat, for tenting. This is a haven for birdwatchers. We started on a guided bird walk yesterday; the guide guaranteed that we would see at least 60 different species. Unfortunately, we did not have binoculars, and the slow pace and dearth of conversation caused us to abandon it after only an hour. But, if you were not ignorant about birds, as we are, this place would be a paradise. There also are numerous species of fish in the lake, so it is a wonderful place for fishermen as well. We are enjoying walks in the area, anyway.

Yesterday, a volunteer at the Patagonia Visitor Center suggested that we drive south of town to a wide valley of tall grass and mountain vistas. We did so, along much smoother dirt roads than at the Monument last week. We drove for nearly two hours and passed very few residences. I was startled to think back and realize, however, that there were mailboxes next to the road way out there; the USPS does travel far. We also saw several Border Patrol cars cruising the roads. There were the now-usual signs along the road, that you might encounter smugglers and illegal immigrants in the area. We are only a few miles north of Mexico, but there are very tall mountains south of us, and it is hard to imagine building a fence along that border. (Back at Organ Pipe, though, we had read that the Border Patrol had made 4000 arrests in the Monument one year recently.) The terrain around here, where we are above 4000 feet, is mostly hilly and forested. Arizona is open range, and at one point on our drive yesterday, we had to stop and wait for three cows to meander across the road. At the campground, there are signs that a mountain lion has been spotted in the park, and a rabid skunk was recently removed. Hmm. And all the wildlife we have seen is a couple of mule deer and a few squirrels.

Our itinerary from here is rather loose, but we might go to Bisbee and Douglas, Arizona, then up through New Mexico to Albuquerque, which would be a good base for our visit to Salida.


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