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. We 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 café looks like it’s well-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!
Back to our reason for being here – the birding! Although it was a little early for some of the more exotic birds like the Elegant Trogon, there were trails to walk and backroads to explore. The Chiricahua mountains suffered an 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 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.
One 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!
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!