Busy Days in Tucson

Tucson, AZ

It has been a week and a half since we left Naco and moved to Lazydays KOA in Tucson.  Since we’ll be here for a month we reserved one of their “deluxe” sites, with a larger patio, hedges around the site, and a small area of grass.

Site 1364 in Lazydays

The afternoon of our second day here we hosted a happy hour with some RV friends who are also staying in this park.  Dave and Sue from Beluga’s Excellent Adventures and Bill and Jodee from On the Road Abode joined us.

John, Sue, Dave, Pam, Jodee, and Bill

There are many citrus tree in this park so one of Pam’s first activities was to fire up the juicer and make some delicious orange juice and grapefruit juice.

It wasn’t very long after our arrival that the nimble hiker had us out on the trail.  Our first couple of outings were in the Robles Pass section of Tucson Mountain Park.

“Beauty” among the Saguaro

“Beast” among the Saguaro

Downtown Tucson in the distance

Passing an old friend from last year’s visit

Tucson has some great bike paths and the area is very flat so one day we headed out for a 20 mile bike ride.  Along the way we passed through the campus of the University of Arizona so we stopped by Old Main to check out another old friend.

Pam has been following the blog Jim and Barb’s Adventure for a long time and when we learned they were in the area, we arranged a late lunch at the Barrio Brewing Co.  We enjoyed a tasty adult beverage, some good food, and some great conversation.  A hike together just may be in our future.

Barb, Jim, Pam, and John

A few days later we drove north of Tucson to the Dove Mountain Brewing Co. (seems to be a pattern here) to meet with another couple we have met during our travels.  Rick and Joanne (Rick and Joanne’s RV Travels) have a home outside Denver but travel for much of the year.  We first met them when they were camphosting in Glacier NP a couple of years ago.

John, Pam, Rick, and Joanne

The nimble hiker found a newspaper article from a couple of years ago that described a hike near Gate’s Pass, just west of Tucson in Tucson Mountain Park.  The writer of the article called one part of the hike the Unnamed Trail as she couldn’t find any name for it on maps.  The hike begins at the parking area on the south side of Gate’s Pass, which is the location of the northern terminus for the popular Yetman Trail, a long trail that runs the length of the Tucson Mountain Park.

Going through Gate’s Pass we could just make out a trail above us

Trailhead for the Yetman Trail

This hike begins with a half mile trek up the Yetman Trail to where it intersects with the Gate’s Pass Trail.  We turned left (north) on the Gate’s Pass Trail and headed around a steep peak.

Gate’s Pass Trail sign on the left, Yetman Trail on the right

Looking west on the Gate’s Pass Trail, the parking area is visible in the lower center

After a fairly challenging climb along the Gate’s Pass Trail we went through a saddle between the peaks.  Just after the saddle we found the Unnamed Trail on our right and headed south.

Hiking south on the Unnamed Trail

Lunch with a view

The writer of the article about this hike described an end point in the trail overlooking a ravine with a nice view looking both to the east and the west.  We could see the trail continuing into and through the ravine and over another saddle to the west.  We knew the Yetman Trail was in that direction so we continued on the trail, confident we would intersect with it.  We could then head back north to the parking area, making a nice loop hike.

Although a bit steep and narrow in spots, the trail wasn’t too difficult and, after a bit, we came to the Yetman Trail.

Heading back north on the Yetman Trail to the parking area

Although only about four miles long, this hike seemed much longer due to the steep, rough, loose stone terrain.  But we will definitely be recommending it to some of our hiking pals who are in the Tucson area.

The weather for the weekend predicts wind, rain, and cool temperatures forcing us to curtail our outdoor adventures.  But the forecast for next week is much improved so we’ll be out and about soon.  More on that later . . .

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A Little Golf, a Little Exploring in Naco, AZ

Naco, AZ

We are now finishing our ten day stay here along the border with Mexico.  We came here to meet Sue and Dave (Beluga’s Excellent Adventures), to play some golf on the Turquoise Valley Golf Course next to the RV park, and to enjoy some of the nice restaurants in the nearby town of Bisbee.

Mountains in view in all directions

Some golfers here are a bit strange looking

One of our favorite places to eat in Bisbee is Cafe Roka, located on Tombstone Canyon Road in the downtown area.  Dave and Sue joined us for another delicious meal at this quirky restaurant.

Cafe Roka on the left side of Tombstone Canyon Rd.

One day we needed a break from golfing so we drove about 30 miles to the west for a visit to a religious shrine built on the side of a hill visible from AZ-92.  We have driven by this shrine many times and wanted to check out the view of the valley from the site.

Our Lady of the Sierras was built in the late 1990s by a couple from Illinois who had purchased the land to build a home for their upcoming retirement.  They were inspired to construct a shrine after visiting one that had a similar hillside location in the former country of Yugoslavia.

The main feature of the shrine is a 75′ Celtic cross.  Sitting next to it is a 31′ statue of the Virgin Mary.  A small chapel sits in front of the statues.

A waterfall is to the left of the cross with a stairway leading further up the hillside leading to a small grotto and the 14th Station of the Cross.

On our last day in Naco we were joined by Bill and Jodie (On the Road Abode) who were staying in nearby Tombstone with friends.  They met us (along with Sue and Dave) at the Bisbee Breakfast Club in nearby Lowell, a little area just south of Bisbee.

Jodee, Pam, John, Sue’s empty chair (she took the photo), Dave, and Bill

After a delicious breakfast the group drove back to Naco for a visit to the border fence.  We had visited with Bill and Jodie last summer in Clayton, NY.  During that visit we had a group photo taken of the four of us standing along the St. Lawrence River, which forms the border between the U.S. and Canada.  Jodie had the great idea that we should take a similar photo of the group along the Mexican border.  While the people in the photos are the same the setting is sure very different.  Instead of the beautiful St. Lawrence in the background we have . . . .

… a beautiful double fence!

A popular vehicle for those living in motorhomes

After breakfast and the photo, Bill and Jodie headed back to Tombstone, and we headed back out for one more round of golf.  The six of us will meet again today, as we are all headed for Lazydays KOA in Tucson.

More on that later  . . .

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Hiking Above Bisbee, AZ

Naco, AZ

We had intended to do some exploring around Silver City, NM, but the weather was just too cold and snowy in the higher elevations.  So when we left Las Cruces, we headed southwest to Naco, AZ.  Naco is a little community right on the Mexican border, just south of the town of Bisbee.  We made plans last year to meet Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) here on February 1st to play golf for a week, so we just got here a few days early.  We are staying in a small park called Turquoise Valley Golf and RV Park.  The RV park is small but nice, and the golf course is right across the street.

Dave and Sue next to us in Naco

Mexican mountains in front of us

The first day of our visit to this area we went into nearby Bisbee to get a little exercise. Bisbee is a former mining town that is now a funky, artsy community filled with ex-hippies and free spirits.  Most of the residential buildings have been constructed on the sides of the steep hillsides surrounding the small downtown area.  These houses are usually above or below street level and are accessed by steep steps.  Each year the town conducts a race up and down the steps called the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb, a 5K run through the city that traverses 1,034 stairs.

Starting point for the Bisbee 1000

Looking back down the first 155 steps

A bit of sculpture next to another set of stairs

Message in the concrete next to the rose sculpture

The next day we decided to hike up a trail leading to a cross and shrine on top of one of the hills overlooking downtown Bisbee.  We did this hike two years ago and thought we had driven to the end of OK Street to the trailhead.  But when we drove up there (about a half mile from the downtown) we discovered there was no place to park.  We then remembered that you have to park downtown and walk up to the trailhead.  So back down the narrow OK Street we went.

Fortunately, no one drove up at us!

Guess someone was raining on their parade wall

Hiking back up OK Street

The trail goes up pretty steeply

View from the top with Bisbee below

The cross on top is visible from the downtown

Lunch with a view

The other side of the cross and shrine

Hiking back down the trail on the other side of the hill we found someone had been busy clearing the trail and adding more small shrines along the path.  Someone painted a picture of Che Guevara, an Argentinian physician who became a Communist revolutionary and Fidel Castro’s right hand man, on a rock wall.

Che Guevara

A religious shrine along the trail

Buddhist Shrine

The Dali Lama

Buddha Statue

Heading back down

We’re looking forward to enjoying some golf and a few meals in some of Bisbee’s many restaurants for the next week.  Then we’ll move a short distance up I-10 to one of our favorite cities, Tucson.

More on that later . . .

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Last days in Las Cruces

Las Cruces, NM

In the final couple of days of our stay in Las Cruces we did a bit of touring and visited a couple of “interesting” restaurants in nearby towns.  We often make a point of touring college campuses during our travels, using our bicycles to see as much of a campus as possible.  We planned to bike around the campus of New Mexico State University but cool temperatures and high winds force us to limit our visit to a drive through the campus in the Jeep.  One structure of interest to us was the design of the football stadium.  From the parking lot the stadium appears to be a bit small.

View of the east side of the stadium

View of the west side of the stadium

But when we went inside the stadium we found most of the seating and the playing field are below ground level.

When we traveled through Ft. Stockton, TX earlier this month, we were astonished by the huge statue of a roadrunner (OK, maybe astonished is a bit strong, but it was pretty big).  But that big bird is only the second largest in the world, so when we found that the largest was just a few miles west of us along I-10, we just had to drive out to check it out.  Made of refuse from a local dump, the roadrunner is 20 feet tall and 40 feet long.  It sits on a rock next to a rest area on the eastbound side of I-10 that has a great view of the Las Cruces area and the Organ Mountains to the east.

We were fortunate during our stay in the Coachlight RV Park to be joined by two other couples we have grown to know during our travels:  Paul and Marsha of Where’s Weaver and Bill and Jodee of On the Road Abode.  One evening the group drove across town to Farley’s Watering Hole to enjoy a meal and some conversation.

John, Jodee, Bill, Paul, Marsha, and Pam

The next day (Wednesday) we planned to go to the town of Hatch with Jodee and Bill for lunch at Sparky’s, the restaurant we mentioned in the previous blog.  But not only was it closed on Monday when we first planned to eat there (we hiked instead), but we found that it is also closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Luckily, Jodee and Bill had an alternative restaurant that they promised was even more “interesting” than Sparky’s.  So we all jumped into their Jeep and headed west on I-10 for lunch at Adobe Deli.  As we approached the town of Deming we exited the highway and took a side road into a parking lot.  Jodee announced that we had arrived at the restaurant, but John kept saying that he couldn’t see it.

Does this look like a restaurant?

Do you see it now?

How about now? Just go through the gate . . .

Finally! Jodee and Tessa show us the way

The “restaurant” is in an old school building that closed in 1977.  The main dining area is in a large room that was probably the gym.  It was cold outside but the room was warmed by two propane heaters (normally used on outdoor patios) and a wood burning stove.

The dining area (it has a stage for bands on the weekend)

The bar with a few patrons in the balcony

Bill, John, and Jodee check out the menu while Tessa keeps an eye on the lady with the dog treats in her pocket

Hall decorations

Waiting for a call from Capt. Kirk

The Adobe Deli may have been the strangest looking restaurant we have ever seen, but the food was delicious!

The next day we finally headed north to the town of Hatch with Bill, Jodee, and Tessa.  We drove two vehicles as we intended to do a hike on the way back.  But we ran out of time so the hike never happened.  Hatch prides itself as being the chili pepper center of the country and Sparky’s, a local restaurant, was reported to have the best green chili cheeseburgers in the world (or at least in Hatch).    Before stopping at Sparky’s we drove through Hatch (it didn’t take long) and continued west on NM-26.  After about 20 miles we turned right on to NM-27 and drove 12 miles to the ghost town of Lake Valley.

The mining town of Lake Valley was founded in 1878 after silver was discovered in the nearby hills.  Almost overnight, the small frontier town grew into a major settlement. Today the mines are played out and all that remains is a ghost town.  The Bureau of Land Management has restored the schoolhouse and chapel.  Other buildings in the town site have been stabilized to slow further deterioration.

The restored schoolhouse

Dr. Beale’s house

The chrome on the headlights still shines!

The last people to live in the town were Pedro and Savina Martinez who resided in the old Bella Hotel until 1994.  Pedro arrived in the town at the age of two in 1904 and lived there all his life.

Bella Hotel

An old sealed mine just above town

An old bank safe sits abandoned along one of the town streets.  It had been located on the second floor of a bank that burned down in a fire in 1895.

The building below served many purposes including a school, saloon, general store, and gas station.

After taking a self-guided walking tour of the old town, we headed back to Hatch for lunch at Sparky’s.

Front entrance of Sparky’s

Odd statues occupy the area in front of the entrance, along the parking area across the street, and in the small parking lot next to the building.

Odd painting on the wall in one of the dining areas

Sparky’s turned out to be a really cool and different place to eat.  And the stories about the green chili cheeseburgers are true, they are delicious!

Well, that wraps up our stay in Las Cruces.  Next up we head to Naco, AZ located right along the border with Mexico.  We will be meeting up with Dave, Sue, and Lewis (he’s a dog)  to enjoy a week exploring nearby Bisbee and playing golf.  More on that later . . .

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Pine Tree Loop Hike, Las Cruces

Las Cruces, NM

One day during our Las Cruce stay we left the motorhome with the intent of driving to the town of Hatch to have lunch at a well-known restaurant.  As we drove through Las Cruces, a check on the restaurant’s hours revealed that they were closed for the day.  OK, time for a change in plans.  Since we were dressed to take a short hike on the return trip from Hatch, we decided to go up into the nearby Organ Mountains and do a hike we had on our schedule for later in the week.

So we headed up US-70 through the St. Augustin Pass to the east side of the Organ Mountains.  Just a mile or so beyond the pass we turned off the highway on to Aguirre Springs Road.  After six miles we came to the Aguirre Spring Campground,  a 57 site BLM facility with no utilities.

As we approached the campground the mountains loomed directly in front of us, so we knew there would be a great deal of elevation gain and loss in this hike.  We parked in a small lot inside the campground and found the Pine Tree Loop Trailhead nearby.

The trail is a lollipop configuration with a short hike up to a junction with the main loop.  We hiked the loop in a counterclockwise direction.  The trail immediately went up in a steady climb through low shrubs and grass.

About half way up the first part of the loop, we entered some snow and the trail became a bit slippery.  Without hiking poles we probably would have turned around before long.

But we kept going and were rewarded with a great lunch view of the valley below with the White Sands Missile Range residential area on our right.

Lunch with a view

After a light lunch we continued up the snowy trail through the rocks.

This was our first challenging hike since returning to the west and we were quite pleased with this trail.  It had a bit of elevation gain (1500 ft in a little over two miles) and the snow provided some interesting moments as we hiked across some steep embankments.

We have a few more things to share about our stay here so we have one more post about Las Cruces before moving on.  More on that later . . .

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CPI, Zuhl Museum, and White Sands NM

Las Cruces, NM

Chile peppers are one of the top agricultural products of New Mexico.  The New Mexico chile is a unique group of chile peppers initially developed by pioneer horticulturist, Dr. Fabian Garcia, in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University in 1894 (this blog always has such useful information!).   So when a visit to the Las Cruces Visitor Center yielded a brochure describing the Chile Pepper Institute at nearby NMSU we (or one of us) was eager for a visit.  One windy afternoon we arrived at Thompson Hall, parked in the one spot in the lot reserved for visitors to the institute, and made our way to room 265.

The institute turned out to be one room mostly filled with chili products for sale.  But the person on duty was very knowledgeable and gave one of us a great explanation of the development and uses of the New Mexican Chili plant.

Just a few blocks from Thompson Hall is the New Mexico State University Visitor Center.  Inside the visitor center is the Zuhl Museum, a two room display of the Zuhl Collection containing over 1,800 beautiful specimens of petrified wood, fossils and minerals.

In 1970 on vacation in Arizona from their New York City home, Herb and Joan Zuhl, saw a rancher removing a petrified log from his land.  Intrigued, the Zuhls dug up a log and shipped it home, beginning a new passion and successful business. Cutting and polishing pieces of petrified wood produced assorted museum quality specimens and art objects soon in high demand in their Manhattan gallery. The Zuhls retired to Las Cruces in 1991 and sold their business, keeping more than 2,000 of the most impressive pieces of their collection for themselves.  In 2000, the Zuhls allowed their personal collection to be displayed at the university.

Cross section of a huge petrified tree trunk from Oregon

Petrified palm tree

Amethyst from Brazil

Closer look at the amethyst

Chrysocolla with Druzy Quartz Coating

The day after our visit to NMSU we drove about 50 miles to the northwest on US-70 to visit White Sands National Monument.

The monument comprises the southern part of a 275 square mile field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because it is water-soluble.  Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea.  White Sands is in an enclosed basin, meaning that it has no outlet to the sea, and rain that dissolves gypsum from the surrounding mountains is trapped within the basin.  Water either sinks into the ground or forms shallow pools which subsequently dry out and leave gypsum in a crystalline form on the surface.

In the gift shop at the visitor center you can purchase a new or used saucer-type sled to enjoy a ride down the many steep dunes.  We watched several families enjoying a day on the slopes.

The dunes constantly change shape and slowly move downwind.  Sometimes the moving sand creates interesting patterns along the face of the dunes.

Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981′) north of the sand dunes

After enjoying our visit to White Sands National Monument, we drove a few miles north to Alamogordo for a visit to McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Farm.  Who can resist a giant pistachio? (and they have a great sample table!).

We have a few more things on our list for the Las Cruces area so look for one more post from here.  More on that later . . .

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Dripping Springs Trail, Las Cruces, NM

Las Cruces, NM

We’ve been moving across the country fairly quickly after leaving Florida on January 1st, so we decided to slow down a bit and explore the area around Las Cruces.  With that in mind we settled in for a week at Coachlight Motel and RV Park.  The park is a little short on aesthetics, but is just what we need for our stay in this area.

Coachlight Motel and RV Park

Just ten miles east of Las Cruces is a rugged mountain range named the Organ Mountains.  In 2014 the area was included in the newly designated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

In one area of the Monument is a small visitor center where you can park and hike up to see the remains of a hotel and sanatorium operated in the early 1900s.  We parked there and hiked the two mile trail up to the ruins.

The nimble hiker is back in her element!

The area right at the base of the mountains is known as Dripping Springs, named for the waterfall fed by a mountain stream.   The people who constructed the hotel built a retaining wall at the base of the waterfall to create a small pool that provided water to the hotel.  The pool is now filled in with dirt but you can see the retaining wall in the photo below.

The hotel built at the site was named Van Patten’s Mountain Camp.  In the late 1800’s, Col. Van Patten, a former Confederate army officer, began construction of the camp.  A stage line from Las Cruces, 17 miles away, would carry guests by stagecoach along the rocky path up to the hotel itself.  In early 1900’s, guests arrived at the hotel by automobile, as well as, by horse and wagon.

The site of the resort is tucked into the rocky peaks at an elevation of 6,000 feet
(which is 2000 feet higher than Las Cruces). In its heyday, the luxurious resort
boasted 2 stories and 14 rooms, dining and recreational facilities, and a gazebo that
functioned as a bandstand.  Many famous people, such Pat Garret and Pancho Villa, stayed  in the hotel

Not much remains of the hotel.  In the old photo above you can see a building on the right with two windows on the second floor.  Below is the remains of that building.

The main section of the hotel is on the left of the old photo.  Below is all that remains of that part of the building today.

In 1915, Col. Van Patten came into financial difficulties. The hotel was closed and
the resort sold to Dr. Nathan Boyd, who turned the hotel into a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Extra buildings were constructed to house some of the patients.

Sanatorium buildings

Lunch with a view on the return hike

The hike up to Van Patten’s Camp was a great re-introduction to hiking for us.  There are a number of other places we plan to explore during our stay in the Las Cruces area.  More on those later . . .

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