Sunday, April 27, 2014

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66

We were stuck in Kingman for a few days while we waited for a new starter to be shipped and installed by the Freightliner Dealer.  Kingman might not be on anyone’s list for a tourist stop, but there’s an interesting history of “The Mother Road”, Route 66. 
By the 1920s, automobile registration in the country jumped from around half a million to almost 10 million, and to correct a haphazard system of roads traversing the country, Route 66 was created to provide a route between Chicago and Los Angeles.  For nearly six decades Route 66 was the “Mother Road”, connecting small  and large towns for commerce, providing a route used by families traveling west to relocate from the dust bowl, tourists, and opening up portions of the west for tourists.  But by the 1950s, the President Eisenhower initiative to build interstate highways across America left most of the route seldom used.  Even so, it’s always been a part of our history, especially for those of us who listened to Bobby Troup’s “Get your kicks on Route 66” or watched the TV series with Martin Millner and George Maharis as they traveled the route in their Corvette.
Today only a few portions of the original road exist, and in towns like Kingman and Albuquerque  you can still tell which of the old motels were in business along the original route.  To see a portion of the “old road”,  we drove south from Kingman to intersect the old road and then headed west for a visit to Oatman.Route 66 to Oatman2
The first thing that strikes you is how narrow the old road is and how it twists and turns as it climbs the foothills into the mountains.  It seems impossible that today’s tractor trailer rigs would ever be able to navigate this portion – I certainly wouldn’t want to try it in our motor home.  But the gold in the hills here dictated the location of the route, and even today we saw active gold mines in the area, most of them on old mines that are now worth mining again due to the high price of gold.  The scenery along the way was memorable, and we enjoyed seeing many of the desert plants in bloom, especially this Ocotillo.Road to Oatman
Route 66 to OatmanOcotillo in BloomAs we approached Oatman, one of the famous mules descended from those used during the mining days stood guard in the middle of the road.  Brenda was ready with a bag of carrots (which we later learned were bad for them) and after noisily chomping down a few, he moved aside to let us pass.
There isn’t much left of the original Oatman except for the main street, but fear not, enterprising merchants have recreated an old mining town full of galleries, gift shops, and places to eat.  If you’ve ever been to the commercial wonderland of Tombstone, Arizona, then just imagine it on a smaller scale and harder to get to.  With mules.  Everywhere.Oatman View
Oatman Street SceneOatman SignThe mules of course have figured out that all they have to do is stand in the middle of the street, look cute, and people will flock to feed them.  Since carrots are no longer allowed, there’s a booming business selling some sort of compressed hay pellet that the mules seem OK with.  As soon as Brenda stepped into the street with her bag, she was mobbed by the local mule gang which pushed, prodded, and nuzzled their way into her heart – and food bagBrenda's New Friends
One mule, however, could not be fed – a month-old baby with an address label stuck to his head that read “Do not feed me anything!”  Which was good, since Brenda’s burro food bag was empty.Baby Mule
That’s it for this visit, we’ve got some things in Las Vegas to show you, so C’mon back!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More Mountains – Less People

Sometimes you find an off-the-beaten track sort of place that has a special appeal.  And so it was after we turned off I-10 and headed south on lonely highway 80 towards Rodeo, NM and Rusty’s RV Park.  We’ve visited here in our early days on the road and decided it was time to make a return trip.  Rusty’s is a park that generally attracts people with one of two interests – star gazing or birding.  The sky here is incredibly dark at night, and all manner of telescopes are set up at sites throughout the park.  The other interest is birding – just across the border in Arizona lie the Chiricahua Mountains and excellent birding in Cave Creek Canyon and the surrounding area.  For us, the Chiricahuas have been a favorite place to visit since the early 1970s when we were stationed in Tucson.  The area around the National Monument with its hoodoos and slot canyons is a place we enjoyed hiking, all the while in the shadow of Cochise Head, a rock formation that looked at sideways, looks startlingly like the profile of an Indian Chief.
While it may be remote, the area has an interesting history, from the surrender nearby of Geronimo to the home of the “Sky Gypsies”, a group founded by the eccentric, sometimes often very strange John McAfee, developer of the anit-virus software.  Across from Rusty’s is what remains of the Sky Gypsy complex that he purchased and built for a reported $11.5M.  Now pretty much deserted, it’s just a part of the McAfee legend that includes building “aerotrekking” bases across the US, moving to the jungles of Belize, losing everything in an escape to avoid murder charges, to his current status hiding from “Cartel assassins”.    Years ago, National Geographic Magazine did an article on McAfee  (you can read it here); contrast it to the recent article in USA today (read it here).  Many of the people in the area knew him and tell stories of his antics; most are upset that he had to sell his property for $1.5M and abandon what was one of the only enterprises in the region.  Sky Gypsies CafeWe took a drive through the Sky Gypsy property one evening.  It’s a deserted, quiet area, now used (we’re told) for small conferences of amateur astronomers.  The cafĂ© looks like it’s Sky Gypsy's Airportwell-maintained on the outside, but then again, nothing ages much in this desert environment.  It will be interesting for us to continue following the McAfee saga – who knows where he’ll turn up?  He sounds like a candidate for the full-time lifestyle – maybe we’ll meet him on the road.  Now that would be an interesting story!
Chiricahuas1Back to our reason for being here – the birding!  Although it was a little early for some of the more exotic Chiricahuas2birds like the Elegant Trogon, there were trails to walk and backroads to explore.  The Chiricahua mountains suffered Chiricahuas3an immense wildfire a few years ago and almost 223,000 acres burned.  We were anxious to see the damage and headed into the mountains to see our favorite places – and were pleasantly surprised.  While the acreage of the fire was large, much of it burned at ground level and left the large trees intact.  Cave Creek and the little town of Portal were intact, as was the semi-ghost town of Paradise.  Rustler's ParkRustler’s Park, one of the most popular campgrounds high in the mountains, was pretty much burned out, and was closed while tree cutting was taking place.  All in all, as we wound our way across the mountains, the views were much like we remembered, still majestic, still magical. 
Brenda and Tundra at Walker HouseOne of our must-visit places is the little town of Paradise (population 12) and the George Walker House, or rather, the owners of the house.  Jackie and Winston live next door and have an amazing bird feeder garden.  They graciously allow visitors (watch for the “yard is open” sign) to sit on their porch with their welcoming dog, Tundra, and Jackie will happily point out the different birds.  We sat on the porch and marveled at the variety – Bullock’s and Scott’s Orioles, a Magnificent Hummingbird, and a Williamson’s Sapsucker were the most notable, but the Acorn Woodpecker deserved the nod for best pose of the day.  Thanks again to Jackie and Winston for the hospitality!

Acorn Woodpecker

If you’d like to get away from cookie-cutter campgrounds and experience something different, try Rusty’s.  There’s no friendlier owners in the business and I doubt you’ll ever find a larger RV site!  You can see our review here.
We’re continuing our journey northbound, so stay tuned and see what we discover next!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fort Stanton and Lincoln, New Mexico

Having visited “old west” towns like Tombstone or Oatman, it is a pleasure to return to an area of the historic west that hasn’t been commercialized.  While the eastern slopes of the Sacramento Mountains in Southeast New Mexico may seem like an unlikely place for Western legends, this is where the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid once roamed.  The Billy the Kid (BTK) name conjures up different images depending on your generation or even what movies you’ve watched.  Looking at the list of BTK movies, some dating back to the 1930s, he’s been portrayed at least 20 times, by everyone from Paul Newman (The Left Handed Gun), Audie Murphy (The Kid From Texas), Roy Rogers (Billy the Kid Returns), and so many more, all  entertaining, but mostly ridiculous portrayals as in “Young Guns”.  My favorite bad movie is “Billy the Kid”, with Robert Taylor who,  playing the “Kid”, was 40 years old at the time of filming. 
Fort Stanton SignThe story of the Lincoln County War centers around Fort Stanton, a cavalry post built to protect settlers from the Mescalero Apache.  The war began when a newcomer (John Tunstall) moved to the area and challenged the reigning provider of goods to the fort, Lawrence Murphy.  The fort provided the only real cash money in the territory, and unfortunately Tunstall believed he’d be protected under the law, not realizing that the law belonged to the Murphy gang.  The rest is well known – each side deputized gangs to fight on their side, the Tunstall side becoming the “Regulators” with BTK as one of its members.  But first, some Fort Stanton History:
Fort Stanton Parade PictureThe fort has its roots in the Indian conflicts, as most frontier forts, but continued in different roles until recently.  A true military post from 1855-96, once the Mescalero tribe were contained on the reservation, the fort was closed until 1899 when it was acquired by the U.S. Health Service as a Fort Stanton PatientsTuberculosis hospital for the Merchant Marine.  It’s an interesting story of how over Fort Stanton Cemetary5000 sailors were treated high in these mountains.  When visiting the post cemetery we were surprised  by the large anchor guarding the entrance, so out of place here.  Visiting the fort museum, the photos are a lesson in the medical treatments of the time.  I particularly liked the rules for patients, which included 1) sit or recline in the sunshine, 2) do not exercise, and 3) eat as much as you can to gain strength.  Those are my kind of doctor’s orders!
Fort Stanton Officer QuartersDuring the depression of the 1930s, the fort became a Civilian ConservatFort Stanton Chapelion Corps camp, and many of the structures built by the CCC are still evident.  Just before WWII, it became a German Merchant Marine internment camp, housing the crew of a German luxury liner ordered scuttled by Hitler to avoid it being used by allied forces.  In 1953 the fort was turned over to the Sate of New Mexico, which used it as a tubercular hospital until the mid-90s.  It is now a State Historic Site and living history center.

Ten miles east of the fort lies Lincoln, another state historic site, unique in that it is a living town, with residents and shops – all required to maintain the original 1860s appearance.  Once the largest county in the U.S., and the site Lincoln County Courthouseof most of the killing in the 1870s “war”, the town today is quiet, non-commercial, and full of the history of the era and Billy the Kid.  There is a great museum, the Tunstall Store, and the “house” – the the name for the courthouse where BTK made his escape.  All are historically accurate and contain exhibits and historical descriptions.  At the courthouse, you can climb the stairs where View from Courthouse WindowBTK overcame his guard and see the bullet holes in the wall.  I found it eerie to stand in the same spot on the second floor window where BTK leaned out with his guard’s shotgun, yelled “Hello Bob”, to deputy Bob Olinger, and shot him dead.  You can walk around the room where BTK was held captive and even see a replica of the outhouse he used – it’s OK to look, it’s just a non-working replica!
Lincoln Defense TowerAs much as the museums, just walking down the street of Lincoln is a step back in history.  The old chapel, homes, and defense tower (torreon) are historic originals and not recreations.  Here are some images:

Lincoln Abandoned Home
Lincoln Arch
Lincoln Church
Lincoln Home
Lincoln Wall
Of course, even in a historic site, there’s bound to be some type of commercial advertisement.  On the wall of a small store, we found this:
Billy the Kid Poster
That’s it for this visit – next we’ll be moving on to one of our long-time favorite locations, the Chiracahua Mountains of Eastern Arizona.  C’mon back!