Saturday, October 31, 2009


OMG! We have really become snowbirds. We have spent time in Arizona five times in the last three years. But we have always been going against the traffic—driving south in March and north in October, always watching hundreds of RVs (so it seemed) going the opposite direction. Until this year, that is.

This year, we drove south in the first week of February and again in mid-October, and many of the RVs on the road were going the same direction we were. We will be spending the first three months of 2010 volunteering at Casa Grande Ruins in Coolidge, AZ. We had planned to slowly make our way south—Wickenburg, Cottonwood, Mesa, Tucson, Benson—then put the trailer in storage for a couple of weeks while we go to Colorado for Christmas.

Our plans changed this week when a cold front moved through Arizona. We are parked in Mesa and temperatures ranged between the mid-40s and the mid-60s. But when we checked the weather in Benson, the low on Thursday morning was 18 degrees. What is the definition of a Snowbird? It is a gray-haired human flying south to avoid the snow and stay WARM. That cold front brought lots of snow to Colorado and other northern states, driving lots of snowbirds south.

And we changed our plans for the rest of this year, signing up for a sale here at Valle del Oro. For one flat rate, we can have our RV here till January 5. We have stayed in other snowbird parks that have both park models and RV sites, but always off season. We thought they would be too crowded and too social for us during the busy season. Granted, we have to leave in the first week of January, before the place really fills up. But the park’s character is already changing. We will see soon whether we enjoy it or not. But the Phoenix area is relatively warm—our first criteria for a winter place to park.

Each day many new people arrive—some in the RVs, which they spend the winter in; some in RVs that they empty into their park model, then put into storage; others by car or plane, headed for their park model. Classes, hikes, social events are gearing up. We don’t know how we will feel by the time we leave for Christmas, but we are enjoying learning about something new and wearing shorts to go hiking.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Train Ride

John and I are train buffs and we try to ride them as often as we can. Unfortunately, it has been a long time since there was a good opportunity to do that. I enjoy the ride and the scenery. John enjoys both of those aspects, as well as the sounds and the chance to study the train engine.

Saturday, we rode the Verde Canyon Railroad, a 40-mile trip along the Verde River through wilderness from Clarkdale to Perkinsville. First John spent some time looking at the two engines--F-7 diesels. Isn't that a great eagle painted on the side?

The Verde River was lined with trees turning yellow. The clear sky was reflected in the stream. This shot gives a good view of both the river and the train.

Open cars are an amenity that makes rail fans happy on tourist trips. This train had one open car for each traditional Pullman coach. As you can see, most people spent the trip outside. We had perfect weather for that, sun but not too hot.

There was a lot to see in the canyon. First we came on a Sinagua Indian cliff house. Theses southwestern Indians lived in the area during about the same time the Anasazi lived in the four-corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

In addition to the Sinagua ruins, we saw what archaeologists believe is the remains of a Hohokam pit house. Look at the dead tree in the center, surrounded by a low stone wall. The Hohokam were Indians that built extensive canals to support their irrigated farms along the Salt and Gila Rivers in Arizona, south into Meso-America. At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Coolidge one of their last and largest structures can be viewed.

Some American Bald Eagles live year-round in the canyon. Others migrate through. Here is a shot of an eagle nest on the canyon wall.

Later we saw one of the Eagles. He was a long way away, so this picture is a little fuzzy, between the extreme telephoto aspect and the moving train. But you can see it really is an American Bald Eagle.

We also saw this magnificent Great Blue Heron down by the river.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Earlier this week we visited two towns near Dead Horse State Park, where we are staying for a week. Wednesday we drove to Sedona, a city located in what must be the most spectacular setting we have ever seen. This photo was taken from the sidewalk in the center of town.

Before lunch we drove up the Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona. The scenery is beautiful. We saw fall color, red rock formations and colorful rock walls.

After lunch, we enjoyed exploring Sedona. Other than getting a start on our Christmas shopping, we didn't buy anything. Large paintings and expensive jewelry don't fit in our RV or out lifestyle. But we did enjoy looking. And the town has numerous statues--of javelinas and western subjects.

One very attractive shopping area is Tlaquepaque, a development resembling a Mexican village. We found numerous corners like this as we went from shop of shop.

It is amazing to us that roses are blooming in late October. This was taken in the rose garden at Tlaquepaque.

We found these chairs in front of one of the restaurants. They are surprisingly comfortable, considering they are made of rocks.

Jerome is a small mining community high on a hill, overlooking the Verde River Valley. We thought we would be visiting what amounted to a ghost town and were going to compare it to those we know in Colorado. Were we ever surprised! It is a town that holds ghost hunting bus tours and focuses on the bawdy and the macabre. The House of Joy sells bordello tokens and skeleton statues. This is a view of their garden. If you look closely you will see a casket and a detached arm. (Is it really a casket? John doesn't think so.)

The name of this pizza place shows you what I mean by bawdy.

The town sits on a steep hill. The building roofs on one street are lower than the sidewalk on the next street. Those miners, as well as today's residents, get really good exercise moving around Jerome.

At the very top of the town we found the Jerome Grand Hotel. We were probably the only visitors who walked there, looking for some lunch.

The restaurant is called The Asylum.

It was decorated (for Halloween only?) with a casket and body, spider webs and black cats. The wait staff was in costume. We were served by a jar of mustard and watched a belly dancer serving food. We did enjoy our lunch.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Before we left Nevada, we visited the Nevada Southern Railroad Museum and downtown Boulder City, where are RV park was located. The museum had both steam and diesel engines.

We also found a small switcher engine with an interesting name. It had been used at the rocket development sites operated by the US Atomic Energy Commission and US Air Force in Area 25, which is located in Jackass Flats in Nevada.

Mountains in Nevada are not the tree-covered areas we are used to. But they have their own interesting character. The red mountain below is on the edge of Boulder City. We saw the great formations as we drove south into Arizona.

Downtown Boulder City is very attractive. The city grew to serve the many workers who came in to build Boulder Dam, which created Lake Meade. We enjoyed a beer at the Boulder Dam Brewing Co. The word "dam" is used on the local hotel, as well as on the clothing store.

From Boulder City, we drove to North Ranch, an Escapees RV Park in Congress, AZ. Congress is just a wide spot in the road with a post office. About 15 miles south of North Ranch is the town of Wickenburg. It is an attractive, very western town. We visited the Cowboy Caboose in downtown. It had housed the cowboys who accompanied their cattle on train trips to distant markets. We were told the cowboys were along because every 200 miles, the train had to stop so the cattle could be taken out of the cars, exercised and given food and water. That could make a train trip from Wickenburg to Fort Worth or Chicago a very long haul.

Throughout the town there are statues with a story to tell. This is a young school teacher, fresh off the train, engaged to teach in the local one-room schoolhouse for the year.

We know we are back in Arizona, the land of glorious sunrises and sunsets. These were taken from our site at North Ranch.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We Walked 7 Miles

But where were we? First we drove down into the Virgin River Gorge. The rock formations along the way are very interesting. Not very colorful, but pretty in their own way.

We saw numerous caves in the walls of the gorge.

Eventually, we drove through a Joshua Tree Forest. I really find these trees fascinating. They only grow in a few areas.

Then yesterday we took a long walk. We might have been in the tropics.

Or maybe in Rome.

Or even Paris.

Do you give up? We took our walk on the Las Vegas Strip.

A year ago, we said we wouldn’t return here for several years. But Vegas makes a good stop when you are headed south on I-15. And last year I didn’t take a camera when we toured the southern part of The Strip. So we returned to get a few pictures. And eat a good buffet lunch. That was it. John did put a $1 bill in a slot machine, but he didn’t win anything. Tomorrow we go on to Arizona.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Color of Zion

After several months of landscapes colored by amber waves of grain, we have arrived in southwestern Utah, otherwise known as Color Country. We have been to Zion National Park twice before, but I had forgotten the real beauty and color that surrounds the visitor there. We hiked there Wednesday, climbing to Scout Lookout. That is a point about 1/2 mile from Angels Landing, a really beautiful place about mid-way into the Zion Canyon through the park.

Hopefully you can appreciate the beauty of Angels Landing from this viewpoint on the floor of the canyon--more than 1000 ft above the Virgin River. We had no intention of climbing to the very to. Those climbing beyond Scout Landing use the chain you can see here for the final ascent. It helps keep them from slipping off the trail. We were not the least bit interested in going that last half mile, either this year or four years ago.

This little chipmunk was doing his best to tempt all the hikers into owing a $100 fine for feeding the wildlife. He knew how to get fed and raise money for the park at the same time. We had already eaten our lunch, plus we knew better than to give him anything. Isn't he cute, though?

The many rock formations in Zion range in color from white through several shades of red to black. Here are a some photos of the canyon walls.

The trail to Scout Lookout has an elevation gain of over 1,000 ft and the trail is very, very steep in places. This is looking back down one stretch of the trail.

Here you can see the switchbacks on the lower part of the trail.

Near the top is a stretch of trail named Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks carved out of the side of the cliff and held up by stone walls. We took photos from both the bottom and the top of the wiggles.

The trail gives a good view of Virgin River as it flows through the canyon.