Our road trips around the U.S.

2018: Staying Home for Awhile, June

Hennepin Avenue bridge from the water taxi

Saint Paul, Minnesota. July 4, 2018

On June 3, we returned to St. Paul after a 18-day trip to Arizona. While there, we spent time with family, visited some iconic Arizona landmarks (the Grand Canyon, Tombstone, Organ Pipe National Park), and explored southeast Arizona where we had spent little time on previous trips to the state. We were only touring in one state, stayed several nights with relatives, had a comfortable rental care; however, found ourselves commenting on how long this trip seemed.

We had anticipated a fall 2018 trip to Idaho but after several days after our return from Arizona, we decided to put our out-of-state travels on hiatus and “stay home for a while”. Staying in Minnesota in the summer and fall is not a hardship. The opportunities for outdoors activities are numerous, the cultural scene is robust and family and friends are close by. It also seemed like the time for us to get more engaged with political work and community volunteer efforts.

Nicollet Island from the water taxi

We did an hour excursion in a “water taxi” on the Mississippi River from Boom Island in Minneapolis. It was a beautiful time to enjoy the Minneapolis skyline. The boat’s skipper did a wonderful job of combining history with contemporary landmarks and environmental issues. Later in the month, we hit the water again on a naturalist-led canoe trip on Lake Snelling at the nearby Fort Snelling State Park. The day after our canoe trip, the rains came and came, closing the lake because of unsafe, high water conditions.

Morning paddle on Snelling Lake

Minneapolis and Saint Paul host outside, somewhere, music and theater every night of the week. The concerts are usually at city parks so picnicking, biking, walking are encouraged. We heard two jazz groups and a large (56 members) brass ensemble at several venues this month. Ed’s sister took us to a remarkable performance of seniors (the group Alive & Kickin) whose singing was delightful and whose individual life stories were very moving.

Brio Brass at Lake Harriet Bandshell

We celebrated Father’s Day and daughters’ birthday; welcomed visitors from Houston; were inspired by the Parkland, Florida students’ visit to the area, and attended our state rep’s summer picnic.

Whether we are traveling or staying home, we are very blessed.

Minnehaha Falls

Chris and Ed
July 4, 2018

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: June 1-3

Flagstaff and Phoenix Arizona, Friday to Sunday, June 1 to 3

Part of Taliesin West, Scottsdale AZ

This 18 day trip wrapped up on a slower pace. Friday we started the day easy and then drove down to Phoenix. The scenery changes from the Ponderosa Pine forested mountains of Flagstaff, through the western end of the Mogollan Rim to the cactus studded area around Phoenix. We checked in to the Orange Tree Resort, a time share community from which we obtained our two nights lodging. Chris and I jumped in the pool, Deb and Rebecca lounged on their patio. Dinner was at Ajo Al’s, an authentic Mexican restaurant.

Dinner at Ajo Al’s, Phoenix

People here love the weather, so they say. I believe them. However, Chris and I found the 90 to 107 degree days hot, dry heat or not. I noticed people did not sit outside under the shady umbrellas at restaurants until evening. They hide indoors during the day. So, in my opinion, not much difference enjoying a warm indoors during a Minnesota winter as enjoying a cool indoors during an Arizona summer.

One other supporter of my belief-Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect (1867-1959). Wright founded an architectural studio and school just outside Scottsdale, Taliesin West. We toured it Saturday morning; Chris and Rebecca taking a three-hour tour. Deb and I settled for a 1.75 hour tour. Wright’s school, following in his past practice, packs up the students and faculty from mid-May to October and they study at Taliesin East in Spring Green Wisconsin. He was no dummy, it is hot in Arizona in the summer.

One example of the reconstructed Chinese art at Taliesin West

Taliesin East came first, Taliesin West was founded in 1937. I am not going to give you a history of Wright, there are many books about his life and his work. A few tidbits gleaned from our docent tours to liven up the narrative though. Frank Lloyd Wright:

    • had three wives and a mistress
    • was a challenging person to work with
    • designed over 1000 buildings, if an owner followed his design exactly, they were allowed to place a red icon on the building, around 20 owners qualified as most found some aspect of his design not to their liking
    • had his students live in the desert in tents for their first year at Taliesin West, years two and three they built their own small housing units in the desert which were torn down when they left
    • emphasized incorporating the building into the natural environment in which it was placed
    • purchased a large quantity of broken Chinese artifacts, had his students glue them together and many are placed around Taliesin West
    • designed his cabaret (small theater) with almost perfect acoustics and seating designed on a bias so a person’s view is not blocked by the individual seated in the row in front of her
    • The water features and stone walks and walls were fire prevention features
    • and his school have a zero drop-out rate, and a 100% placement rate for its graduates with a notable international representation
    • the doorways are a ducking place for people 6 foot tall and over

    The drafting studio at Taliesin West


    The Water Tower at Taliesin West – once Wright had enough money to drill deep enough to reach the aquifer

    After a lunch at Panera, it was back to the Orange Tree Resort for more pool and relaxation time.  Lou and Joyce had returned from Flagstaff and joined us for a pizza and pasta dinner in our room. Then Chris and I took Deb and Rebecca to the airport for their red-eye flight back to Boston.

    On Sunday, we found a Catholic Church nearby, Blessed Sacrament, that actually had decent singing by the congregation. We had lunch at In-N-Out, a west coast burger chain before joining Lou and Joyce at the Musical Instrument Museum. The Musical Instrument Museum is amazing but let me get my biases out of the way. A. I think corporate execs are paid way too much and this museum was started by a former chief exec of Target Corporation; B. As a Minnesotan, and since Target is headquartered in Minnesota, I would have preferred to see such a museum in the Twin Cities. Okay, on with the tale.

    One example of a country exhibit at Musical Instrument Museum Phoenix

    The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) is housed in a building that does not wow you on its architectural style. It is clean, straight lines, white and beige colors. It is the inside, the exhibits, that make one say “WOW”. And I am not a major music listener. The second floor is devoted to collections of musical instruments from around the world, grouped by geographical regions. So what? you say. Well, the presentation includes examples of the musical instrument; a map so the geographically challenged can understand where the country is located (I did not remember that the New Hebrides are now called Vanuatu-did you?); and an audio-visual screen that comes to life as you approach it wearing your headset. Thus you understand the country’s location, see the instrument, and hear and see the instruments being played.

    Another country exhibit

    Just four of the 15,000 instruments in the collection at Musical Instrument Museum

    While numerous instruments are local adaptations of standard instruments (drums), there are unique examples also. The museum has a saying: “Music is the language of the soul”. The exhibits demonstrate the universality of music and the enjoyment and the ritual needs it fulfills. The first floor has a rotating exhibit room (currently a new exhibit is being set up), displays of instruments and related videos of famous musicians from around the world, a display of mechanical music, and an experience gallery where guests can play instruments similar to those on display. We spent two hours here and could have easily been here two or three times as long. Highly recommended.

    We said our good-byes to Lou and Joyce and headed to the airport where our flight got us home at 11 PM. A very enjoyable 18 days and 2200 miles of Arizona exploration-with a plus of family time.

    Ed and Chris. Saint Paul June 4

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 31

Flagstaff, AZ. Thursday May 31

Floating on the Colorado River south of Glen Canyon Dam

Supposedly only 1% of the 5,000,000 people who visit the Grand Canyon area actually get down into the canyon. Well, we are part of the 1%. As mentioned yesterday, hiking down is not an option, nor is hiring a helicopter. We chose to float on 15 miles of the Colorado River. Wilderness River Adventures is a licensed NPS concessionaire and we chose their three-hour float trip.

Downstream side of Glen Canyon Dam from the Colorado River

Yes, much of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon has rapids. But we started just below the Glen Canyon Dam which creates Lake Powell. Lake Powell is the second largest reservoir in the U.S. and the water that is released provides a relatively calm ride for the next 15 miles. The canyon walls in this section rise from 700 to over 1500 feet above the floater. The float trip includes riding through Horseshoe Bend, a well-known tourist vista normally seen from up above.

Our raft

The trip begins with a 6 A.M. check-in, including a TSA safety check since the trip begins in a restricted area beneath the dam. A bus transports us from the Page AZ gathering point to the base of the dam, including a two-mile tunnel ride from above ground to the dam base. Our raft held 19 people and our guide; the raft could probably have held as many as thirty people. Four rafts left this morning (yes, all came back) from a combination of individual ticket buyers like us to chartered bus trips.

Some of the petroglyphs

For the next three hours, we traveled downriver. Early on the day was cool. As the hours went by, the sun rose higher and it became warm, making us glad we did not take an afternoon trip. For part of the trip, a wind developed along the river and cooled us off. We stopped once for a bathroom break and short hike to view petroglyphs chiseled by the Ancient Puebloans and Hopi.

The boat pulled over to one side of the canyon walls by a spring that pours water into the river. The spring is purified by seeping through hundreds of feet of limestone. Adventurous souls like me tried a sip or two. Not bad, but I was expecting it to be cooler.

Top-part of mountain goat group; bottom-close-up

When we began the journey, Cole, our guide who also has a second job at Bonkers where we ate dinner last night, indicated that mountain goats inhabit the area. If we were lucky we might see some. However, he has only seen them twice in the last year. I was lucky enough to spy a group of nine of them and alerted the rest of the boat. A fortunate circumstance.

The beginning of Horseshoe Bend

As usual on such trips, the guide is eager to point out rock formations that resemble people, or animals, or shapes. Our guide was no exception but frequently to see the rock formation shape would take more imagination than I have. When we went through Horseshoe Bend, we could see the tiny figures of people 1000 feet above. When we visited Horseshoe Bend a few years ago, we stayed further back from the edge due to my vertigo and I would probably not have been visible to anyone on the river.

The trip finished at Lees Ferry, one of the few areas along the river with slopes gentle enough to allow early travelers access to the river. The LDS church sponsored an early ferry here to assist its members in their travels to Salt Lake City. Today it is a major jumping off point for river rapids rafters. Just downstream from Lees Ferry is a bridge that automobiles and travelers take to reach the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That drive is spectacular, we took it in 2016.

View of Colorado River from Lees Ferry bridge

Buses were waiting to transport us back to Page. The journey takes an hour; roads are infrequent and the road back is not direct. The view of the Colorado River and the rock formations managed to keep it awake for the first 15 minutes. Lunch was at a Page restaurant called The Dam Bar and Grill. It was okay.

After lunch we headed back to Flagstaff for a last night with Lou and Joyce. We did make a stop at the Cameron Trading Post. This is a 100 year old store, restaurant and lodge and for many years was the major resting point between Flag and Page. Ice cream was our only purchase.

A beautiful morning on the Colorado River

Ed and Chris, June 3 Phoenix AZ

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 30

Page, Arizona. Wednesday May 30

Lower Antelope Canyon, Page AZ

Chris and I were the good ones, getting up at 4:15 A.M. to view a Grand Canyon sunrise. Frankly, we should have stayed in bed. It was alright, but not dramatic. Too many clouds and not much red and orange to make the sunrise stand out. Still, we were proud of ourselves for getting up and walking to the Trail View Overlook for the sunrise.

Sunrise at Grand Canyon, Trail View Overlook

Bright Angel trail from South Rim Grand Canyon top; bottom hikers just starting out on trail.

Trail View Overlook is on the Hermits Rest rim trail. Cars are not allowed there most of the year; you either walk or take the shuttle. Hermit’s Rest juts out into the canyon so it is a good trail to use for sunrise viewing. Trail View is named because you can look down onto Bright Angel Trail, the trail taken by mules and most people hiking on the trail. Readers of the blog have read that I have vertigo now so walking along that trail is just not something on my agenda. Even at 5 AM we saw people beginning the hike. It usually takes twice as long to hike back up as it does to go down. You can choose just to walk a short portion, no pressure to do it all.

A departing view of Grand Canyon

The four of us had breakfast and left a little before ten on our drive to Page, AZ. We stopped at two other overlooks on the way out. The view can change from stopping point to stopping point. Views of the Colorado River are infrequent; it is a mile down and the canyon is 10 to 12 miles wide here. The canyon twists and turns and canyon walls and lesser eroded walls block your view. During the 24 hours we were here, and including sunrise and sunset, I did not find the canyon as colorful as is frequently portrayed in paintings and photographs. Outstanding and awe-inspiring, yes.

On the drive to Page we stopped at McAllister’s Deli at Cameron. This interchange in the middle of nowhere has been improved with a roundabout and new restaurants and gas stations. Our destination was to reach Ken’s Tours at Lower Antelope Canyon by 2 PM. There are tours for Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Both are located on Navajo reservation land and the guides are Navajo. We prefer the Lower Antelope tours since: a. You do not have to ride an open air Jeep on dusty roads to reach the canyon; b. The walk through the canyon is one-way, you do not have to jostle and deal with people coming at you in order to take your photos.

The tour takes an hour to an hour and a half. The canyon is formed by rushing waters after the monsoon season (July and August) rains erode away the sandstone. It is called a slot canyon, it is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top. As you walk through, watching for low overhangs and protruding walls, you are amazed by the wavy designs and formations observable all around you. There are also metal stairs that must be dealt with as you enter and a few times through the canyon.

Chris and I had been here once before, it was the first time for Deb and Rebecca. My words are poor efforts to describe the effect, I will allow pictures to paint the view for you.

Dinner was at Bonkers, a local restaurant with very good food. All of us were pleased, with the meal and the chocolate desserts.

Chris, Ed, Rebecca, Deb at Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antleope Canyon

Lower Antleope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon, Page AZ

Ed and Chris. June 1

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 29

Grand Canyon, AZ. Tuesday May 29

Grand Canyon with the Colorado River from Desert View Watchtower at Grand Canyon National Park

It was a glorious day for visiting the Grand Canyon. Our plan had been to leave Flagstaff, drive through the San Francisco Peaks and Coconino Forest to enter Grand Canyon through the South Entrance. Reviewing the park’s web site made us switch plans. Road construction inside the park and summer attendance were forecast to cause delays in reaching the park. Instead, we drove north to Cameron and then west to enter through the East Entrance at Desert View Watchtower. I had been reluctant to go this route because we will leave the park through this gate Wednesday. It is our preference to view as much different territory as possible on our trips. Later on Tuesday we encountered the road construction and it verified the wisdom of using the East Entrance.

The drive up from Flagstaff begins with numerous inactive/extinct volcanoes on either side of the road. As we progressed north, the trees and volcanoes disappeared to be replaced with scrub brush and rolling buttes and escarpments. The Little Colorado River joins the road just after our turnoff to the national park. We stopped at Cameron Trading Post about a mile past the turnoff for some lunch which we packed away for later. The road has been improved since we last drove here and a McAllisters Deli added at the junction of US 89 and AZ 64. It did not open until 10 AM though so we catch it for lunch Wednesday or Thursday.

Desert View Watchtower with Interior Native American Indian symbols

Our first stop in Grand Canyon National Park was at Desert View Watchtower. This building, and several others, were designed by Mary Coulter, a famous female architect and designer who worked for the Fred Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railroad for 38 years. She incorporated Native American Indian styles into much of her work. The Watchtower is 70 feet high with a stunning view of the landscape. She designed the building with a modern steel structure but an exterior of weathered looking stone. It has Native American symbols on the interior walls.

As our first stop, we took our time here. The crowds were not too bad. The views from outside on the overlooks and from inside the tower gave us a great introduction to the canyon and the Colorado River. The temperature was in the high 70s and sunny all day; it made for great walking and picture-taking. The drive to the main south rim area is 22 miles. We saw some elk along the way and stopped at a few overlooks.

The main visitor center has an excellent introductory film which we viewed along with a few other displays. We ate our lunch outside and then walked the two some miles from the visitor center at Mather Point to the El Tovar/Hopi Point area.

Another view from the rim walk

Along the way we took pictures, took pictures of other people with the canyon in the background, and just enjoyed the day. By now it was after 3 PM. Chris, Deb, and Rebecca walked along the rim a bit more and then headed over to Maswik Lodge to check in.

Grand Canyon

Along the rim walk at Grand Canyon

Waiting for sunset at Grand Canyon

If you are paying attention, you remember that the car is back at the visitor center. I tried to take the shuttle back to pick it up. As I waited at the shuttle bus stop, a construction worker (remember the road work?) told me that the shuttle no longer stops here due to the construction. No sign was posted to that effect. So I took the Greenway Trail, a pedestrian/biking path through the trees most of the way back to the visitor center before I was able to catch a shuttle. The construction has messed up the timing of shuttles too. The shuttle I took was jammed-I compared it to the shuttle buses we take to the MN State Fair. Everybody gets in to fill the bus and then 20 more people pack in.

The four of us separated for a while and then met up at dinner at the food court in Maswik Lodge. Sunset viewing is a big deal here, good spots are taken early. We chose to drive out to the Geology Museum at Yavapai Point, getting a good parking spot and a good viewing spot. Since we had over an hour to kill before sunset, individually we walked a bit, took some pictures, and talked to people. Deb spotted a young elk along the path, drinking from water pooled by a water fountain.

Chris and I spent fifteen minutes chatting with a ranger. She was feeling sore. Last night, she and her partner transported a prisoner to Flagstaff. On the return trip, a deer hit the patrol car. She was in the passenger seat where most of the impact was and the air bag deployment was a little rough.

Sunset and moon rise at Grand Canyon National Park

The crowds increased as sunset neared and we took more than our share of photos. Last night was also a full moon. We hung around to watch the moon rise before heading back to our room.

All in all, a grand day at the Grand Canyon.

Ed and Chris. May 30

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 26-28

Flagstaff, Arizona. May 28

Sedona AZ view

Red Rocks of Sedona Arizona

The last three days have been a relaxing time with Chris’ brother Lou and his wife Joyce. We picked up Deb and Rebecca at the Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix late Friday night and spent the night in Phoenix. Saturday morning we drove the 150 miles to Flagstaff. Deb and Rebecca spent some time with an old friend of Deb’s; we walked around Flag. We picked up Deb and Rebecca at 4 and went to Lou and Joyce’s house.

Downtown Flagstaff AZ

Looking at Flagstaff from the Lowell Observatory

Going for a walk along a created pond in Flagstaff

Sunday and Monday have been family oriented, spending time together, touring Flagstaff and nearby Sedona. Instead of writing narrative, we are just giving you photos. Greater narrative will resume as we visit the Grand Canyon.

Hiking in Sedona

Left, moon photos taken through Lou’s telescope; right, full moon early this evening

View of Oak Creek Canyon towards Sedona

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona AZ

Lunch in downtown Flagstaff

Ed and Chris. May 28

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 25

Phoenix, AZ. Friday May 25

Breakfast at the Guest House Inn at Ajo AZ to start the day off right

Ajo is now but a memory, a stronger one when I discovered this morning that a Minnesota designed the town in 1914. Lodging at Guest House Inn was great, Michael was a gracious host. Breakfast was delicious and the bed gave me a great night’s sleep. The B & B had been the location where visiting dignitaries to the copper mine stayed when the mine was still operational. (By the way, RW if you are reading this, I hope you saw our email and responded to Michael.)

As we drove out of town, we stopped at the offices of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Cabeza is the third largest refuge in the lower 48 states and is primarily desert and mountain. But as the introductory video states, desert does not equal barren of life.

One needs a wilderness permit to enter the refuge which we obtained but we could have skipped it. Once again, high clearance vehicles are “suggested”. We tried the first mile or so of road but decided once again to be cautious and avoid the potential for damaging the bottom of the rental vehicle. Some time we will have to visit and make sure we have a true high clearance vehicle and go wild on back road trips. We passed another wilderness area, Sonoran Desert National Monument on the way back to Phoenix and just kept driving.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge AZ

Phoenix was our eventual destination to pick up Deb and Rebecca who will join us for the next eight days. Their flight does not land until late in the evening so we dropped in at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. This is a NPS unit that Chris and I had disagreed whether we had been here before. I said yes, Chris said no. Once we arrived, we realized Chris was right.

The area around Phoenix was home to people now called the “Ancestral People” who probably arrived around 300 C.E. Over the next thousand years various changes took place, including the change from smaller settlements to larger ones. Casa Grande is the largest known of those large settlements, home to about 2,000 people. Casa Grande is named due to the still-standing four-story Great House.

By the time European explorers arrived in the area, the Ancestral People had dispersed. While not known for certain, best theories believe a combination of weather related conditions caused a societal breakdown and the people dispersed. Six Native American tribes claim ancestry to the Ancestral People.

Map of irrigation canals top; bottom remnant of canal by Casa Grande

We do know that the Ancestral People created a system of canals, close to 220 miles worth, to be able to irrigate crops with water from the Gila River. Without steel implements, this would have been a major task for the community to create. Highly skilled craft remains have been found, indicating the communities had time for more than just work.

Casa Grande up close

Casa Grande was constructed in layers of local building material called caliche, a desert sand high in calcium carbonate mixed with water to form a concrete like substance. The building is oriented north and south with astronomical openings that line up to record the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer solstice.

Casa Grande Ruins was declared the nation’s first archaeological preserve in 1892 and a national monument in 1918. From the picture, you can observe a shelter over the ruins to protect them from the elements. The shelter is called a “Ramada”, or open air shelter, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and constructed in 1932.

The wispy residue of a dust devil

While walking around the site, we experienced a short but nasty wind storm, with the wind creating the type of dust devil I wrote about a few days ago. This time, we had to close our eyes and turn away from the wind; by the time it died down enough for me to get my camera out, I was only able to snap the few wisps of dirt in the air above us.

The rest of the day was spent driving back to Phoenix, checking in to the hotel and having dinner. We picked up Deb and Rebecca at the airport. As usual for us, we did a test run to the airport and spotting the best location to meet them. Of course, the test run was done flawlessly with few cars or people around. Pick-up time at 9:30 PM was jammed though. But we found them.

Saturday we will head to Flagstaff for the second half of this trip, visiting Lou and Joyce, and taking Deb and Rebecca to the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, etc.

Ed and Chris. May 26

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 24

Ajo, AZ. Thursday May 24

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Only one major goal for today, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It was founded in 1937 to protect the Sonoran Desert and the organ pipe cactus here. Organ pipe cactus are more at home in Mexico than the U.S. This location is at the northern reaches of the cactus’ range. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument protects a wide variety of plants and animals, allowing them to flourish in their native environment without much human interference. The United Nations recognized the monument’s value and its success in protecting the environment in its natural state by naming it an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.

It took us all morning to reach the monument. We left Green Valley, going north in I-19. I-19 is an interesting anomaly. It is the only United States Interstate Highway marked in kilometers, not miles. According to our Evergreen hosts, the highway was being built during a time when the U.S. was planning to convert to the metric system. The highway planners did not want to install signs with miles as a measuring unit if they would shortly have to take the signs down and install new signs in kilometers. The decision was made to install kilometer signs from the beginning. Then, the U.S. backed down on the metric conversion but the I-19 signs were already up. Locals did not want to change their address on all of their marketing measures. The decision was made to support the local preference and the use of kilometers continues to this day. It did throw us off the first time we drove on I-19.

I-19 was just a blip today as we turned off it and headed west on Arizona 86. Shortly after leaving the Interstate we were on a two lane road, speed limit 65. We went through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation for the entire drive to Why, AZ. Why, population 162, was our lunch and gas stop. Restaurants and gas stations are not plentiful here so you gas up when you have the chance.

One of the more elaborate memorials along AZ 86

Along AZ 86, we observed roadside crosses and memorial displays. When driving through the U.S., particularly on two lane roads, one observes a white cross where a person died in a traffic accident. On AZ 86, these crosses were too numerous and too elaborate to fit that pattern, at least in my mind. Upon arrival at Organ Pipe, I checked in with a ranger (new, so she had to talk to a more veteran, locally knowledgeable ranger). The Tohono O’odham have a deep reverence for the dead, the memorials on the highway do reflect where a fatal accident occurred. It is just that the memorial is maintained for decades by family members.

Saguaro cactus

Organ Pipe is 20 miles south of Why. We stopped in for the introductory video and then drove around for an hour and a half. I make no apologies for not hiking. It was hot and the scenery did not vary dramatically in the areas we could reach. Some of the roads were high clearance vehicles only. I did not want to risk the rental car on those roads. It is a long way from any AAA service station.

Organ Pipe Cactus

The organ pipe cactus were not the primary variety of cactus we saw. In fact, sometimes we had to really look around to spot them. The combination of desert vegetation and mountain backdrops did make for enjoyable viewing.

Border shots; the wall, the first wall for cars, road checkpoint, and Border Patrol vehicle in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe backs up to the Mexican border and the monument road provided a great opportunity to view “The Wall”. Two versions were visible. One was an initial fence built like construction barricades to prevent cars from driving over the border. The second fence type appeared newer and designed to stop individuals. The visitor center is named for a park ranger who was killed in 2002 while responding to the illegal border crossing of two violent criminals fleeing an incident in Mexico. Border patrol vehicles were frequently spotted in the monument, we were not stopped. We passed through two roadside checkpoints during the trip, again we were just waved through.

After Organ Pipe, we drove to Ajo. For the third night in a row, unplanned, we have slept, or will be sleeping, in the shadow of copper mines and their disposal sites. Ajo is the site of a large copper mine, closed in 1985, and now owned by Freeport-McMoRan. Same owners as the Bisbee copper mine.

Downtown Ajo plaza and park

Catholic Church Ajo AZ

Ajo was built as a company town. The downtown plaza, two churches, school, and hospital were built and are still impressive although some are vacant and some have been repurposed. Initial mine owners tried to send the ore to Wales but that was not economical. The next owners were from St. Louis and after several false starts and more new ownership, in 1915 open-pit mining began here. It was the first open-pit copper mine in Arizona. The pit today is 1.5 miles wide and 1,100 feet deep. We saw mountains of remains, probably the overburden removed to reach the ore and the slag produced from the smelting process. Our B and B is just blocks from the pit.

Ajo is not a major summer destination. Our dinner was at Pizza Hut, one of the very few options available. The town has decreased by 50% since the mine shut down but has been stable for the last two decades. New residents appear to be retirees and Border Patrol workers. There was a “scandal” as the feds built very expensive new housing for the Border Patrol employees rather than buying and rehabbing the many vacant homes. One industry in town is the business of selling Mexican insurance. It is only 100 miles from here to the Gulf of California. RVs and trucks towing boats were the primary vehicles on the road.

Ed and Chris. May 24

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 23

Green Valley, AZ. Wednesday May 23

The inoperable Titan II missile

Arizona is a major mining state, this we knew coming in. We did not know that there had been 18 Titan II missile sites ringing Tucson AZ. Missile sites in ND, SD, Nebraska, etc. we knew about previously. Arizona missile sites are a new piece of information that we learned today at the Titan Missile Site Museum just south of Tucson. There were a similar number of sites around Little Rock, Arkansas and around Wichita Kansas. The tour takes 75 minutes and includes a visit to the missile silo and command room.

Our docent at the command center at Titan Missile Museum

The site was built in 1963 and de-commissioned in 1984. Successful efforts to make it a museum began right at the time of the de-commissioning efforts. The museum includes a real missile unable to fly and a dummy warhead, along with the original control center and mechanical equipment. As part of the nuclear de-armament process, we have to make de-commissioned missile sites available to be inspected by Russians as non-operational. Thus, the warhead has a window in it to show it was disarmed and the silo cover is permanently made inoperable.

Our tour discussed the construction of the silo and command center, with details on the redundancy of fail-safe systems, the ability to withstand nuclear strikes near-by, the protection from intruders, etc. The Titan II missile was extremely powerful and when de-commissioning occurred, the remaining missiles were removed and have been used to send up communications satellites and to send some of the early space exploration efforts.

Just minutes from the missile museum is a mining museum run by ASARCO, a huge U.S. mining company owned by a Mexican company. Kind of ironic, we took Arizona from Mexico and Spain who were seeking gold and other minerals. Spaniards did not find it in the 1500s to 1700s, not until the mid to late 1800s was mineral wealth discovered in Arizona. Now the minerals are being mined by a Mexican company.

The ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center only offers mine tours on Saturdays at this time of the year but exhibits and films explain the mining process and necessity. Certainly the films are presented from the company viewpoint, I can not accurately evaluate their true safety and environmental actions and record. I came away with two major points.

A wall map of the Mission mine site by Green Valley

First, the mine here in Green Valley-Sahuarita is massive, a conglomeration of several previous mines that are now one big mine. The mine goes two miles long and 1.75 miles wide. The reclaimed mine-related area stretching along I-19 seems to me to stretch over 20 miles. ASARCO has two other, large mines in Arizona.

Second, the world needs minerals which only come from mining. If we expect to construct buildings, to use electronics,to eat nutritiously, than mining has to occur. Not stated at the ASARCO museum, but self-evident, is our society has to determine under what conditions and at what cost that mining occurs.

Madera Canyon

By now it was time for a late lunch, which we satisfied at Manuel’s Mexican restaurant. After lunch, we drove to Madera Canyon, a well-known part of the Coronado National Forest. There are trails and picnic tables in a shady canyon with a (today at least) dry creek. Madera Canyon is a well-known birding location with birders from around the nation coming here. It was a warm afternoon and we took short hikes and did some bird-watching before returning to our Evergreen hosts.

Ed and Chris. May 23

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2018 Trip 4: Arizona: May 22

Green Valley, AZ. May 22, Tuesday

The shrine that drew us in

We have been to the mountain top and back to the valleys. Leaving Sierra Vista, our primary goal was to traverse the Huachuca Mountains and end up in Green Valley AZ, our lodging stop for the next two nights. Coronado National Memorial was our intended first stop and home to the road taking us over the mountains.

Looking down from the shrine

On our drive south from Sierra Vista, we knew we would pass the The Lady of the Sierras Shrine. We had not planned to stop. From Highway 92, though, the shrine stood out on the eastern slope of the mountains. It drew us in. The shrine has a chapel which is supposed to open at 9 AM but was still closed when we left around 9:15. A large cross and statue of an angel were also attention grabbers.

Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of the Sierras shrine south of Sierra Vista

After parking in the main lot, we hiked up the slopes past the Stations of the Cross; each one built into the side of the mountain, the next one always a little higher up than the previous one. The culmination of the 14th station was the tomb built into the hillside. We were not planning to do a lot of hiking today, the steps up this hillside were unplanned but proved to be sufficient exercise for the day.

On to Coronado. This NPS unit was created in 1941 with a hope that an adjoining park would be created in Mexico. The result would be a joint park like Glacier-Waterton on the U.S. Canada border. Mexico did not reciprocate. The purpose of the park is to recognize the goodwill and cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico through recognition of the endeavors of Francisco de Coronado. Coronado was a Spaniard who led a large expedition through a large swath of the southwestern United States. He and his subordinates went east as far as Kansas between 1540 and 1542. They were looking for gold, particularly the rumored “Seven Cities of Gold” which never did exist.

On the next turn after this one we encountered an oncoming NPS jeep.

The Coronado National Memorial visitor center has exhibits and displays, which we read. After the visitor center, we began the driving journey, about 20 miles on a twisty mountain road. Tight corners and switchbacks gave little warning of oncoming vehicles (nothing over 23’ allowed); at one corner we had to back up a ways to find a spot where we and an oncoming NPS pick-up were able to pass each other.

The view from Montezuma Pass in Coronado National Memorial

Three miles in, twenty minutes, and 1,300 feet higher, at 6,575 feet we reached Montezuma Pass Overlook. Far ranging views both east and west greeted us. The road continues westward as a gravel mountain journey for another 18 miles to Parker Canyon Lake. Other than the sections that resembled a washboard, the road surface was reasonable. On this stretch we encountered half a dozen Border Patrol vehicles. None stopped us.

Looking west from Montezuma Pass

Parker Canyon Lake is maintained by the Forest Service, part of the Coronado National Forest. Reclamation efforts were visible to stop erosion. Parker Canyon Lake is used to provide irrigation water for the surrounding lands. We just made a picture-taking stop since it was nice seeing a lake in Arizona. Pictures completed, we moved on to Sonoita to have lunch. No luck, no restaurant open.

Next town was Patagonia where the downtown was more thriving. Of course, Patagonia has more people, about 900 compared to Sonoita’s 800. We had lunch at a hotel with an attached restaurant, good food. The free Patagonia Regigonal Times newspaper did have a headline though that lead zinc mining sludge has been seen leaching out of a local, long-abandoned mine.

To reach our next destination, we drove southwest toward Nogales before heading north to Tumacacori National Historical Park. In 1908 Tumacacori was recognized as a National Monument to recognize and protect the then deteriorating buildings of a mission started in 1691. In 1990 it was redesignated as a National Historical Park.

The mission church at Tumacácori National Historical Park

Tumacácori was founded in 1691 by a Jesuit missionary (Padre Kino) to convert and aid the O’odham people who had requested assistance from the “Black Robes” (Jesuits) in improving the O’odham peoples agricultural practices. Kino was to work in this area for over 20 years and established numerous missions. The Santa Cruz River is less than a mile away and provided irrigation water.  Kino introduced wheat, livestock and fruit to diversify the food supply.  The O’odham and Yaqui Indians were taught Spanish and Catholicism.

Like most of the history of Spain in America, conflicts developed. Apache raids, Spanish infighting back home, lack of government support, encroaching settlements, disease, the Mexican Revolution all contributed over time to a dwindling Indian presence and to a dwindling Spanish and Mexican presence at the mission. It was abandoned in 1848.

Interior of the mission church at Tumacácori National Historical Park

When named a national monument in 1908, the buildings had deteriorated but restoration efforts have been effective. The brightly colored paintings that existed at the time of the active church are not present, only a few faint images. The site includes Tumacácori and two neighboring missions. Main visitation is at Tumacácori where the later mission church stands, along with several outbuildings foundations.  The intro video is old but between it and a well done museum, the story of the mission and the people of the area is effectively told.

After the mission we drove to Tubac. Tubac historically was the site of a military presidio, now a state park,  which we skipped. Tubac is a collection of bright painted and decorated adobe style buildings occupied by a variety of artists and accompanying tourist stores. We stopped for some ice cream and enjoyed the pleasant day in the shade.

Our lodging for the next two nights is with an Evergreen host in Green Valley. Green Valley has a population of over 20,000 and is just 20 miles south of Tucson. It is primarily a retirement community surrounded by agricultural and mining lands. As we drove in we could observe the recognizable terraced hillsides of a mining area being reclaimed.

Ed and Chris May 23

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