We truly enjoyed our stay in Southern Arizona. Volunteering at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve was memorable, and it was great to spend time at the Saguaro SKP park with friends Don and Betty. But as every full timer will tell you, after a while, no matter how much you enjoy a location, “hitch itch” strikes and you can’t wait to get back on the road. And so it was finally time to hitch up the CRV, bring in the slides, and head out. But before leaving, there was time for one more walk around the park to admire all of the flowering plants and cactus:
Our destination was Roper Lake State Park near Safford AZ, at the base of the Pinaleno Mountains and Southern Arizona’s highest peak, Mt Graham (10,700). This was our favorite place to go camping when we were stationed in Tucson in the early 1970s. Back then, it was a two hour drive to the base of the mountains, then 37 miles of winding, no-guardrail road to the campground at Riggs Flat Lake. Today the road is paved up to the last seven miles or so, but the road is still challenging. As we started up the mountain, clouds were beginning to form, but views of the valley and Safford in the distance were clear and breathtaking. After an hour of leisurely driving, we crossed over the mountains on to the west side, where a new set of vistas greeted us. A little farther on, we could see what looked like a square lake in the far distance. The “lake” is actually 300 acres of greenhouses employing over 700 people and producing tomatoes and cucumbers. All this in a dry valley devoid of trees or grass, but with a substantial underground aquifer.
We continued to climb through the pines and occasional aspen, and as the weather started to move in – or rather as we started to enter the clouds, this sign reminded us just how high we were. A bit later, we ran into rain, which a little later turned to sleet, which just a bit later turned to snow. With the outside air temperature dropping to 32, we decided that a trip to the lake not worth chancing being snowed in, and started back down the mountain. The towering rocks along the road, shrouded in the clouds, reminded us why the Apache consider the mountain a portal to the spirit world.
We’ve been in so many places where gophers have left mounds of soft dirt from their burrows. I’ve sunk up to my knees in a burrow after a rain made the ground soft, dulled lawnmower blades while moving over them, and cursed the little buggers – but never seen one. Many times I considered my self lucky to see what looked like a head quickly disappear behind a spray of fresh dirt. But here at the park I finally ran into a Pocket Gopher who was on the slow side. Looking at the picture of this little buck-toothed guy I can understand why he hides underground:
On our last day, we decided to visit the Morenci Mine, one of the world’s largest copper mines. Began in the 1870s, the mine just keeps getting larger and larger, taking over the countryside. Company-built housing developments are clustered on the rare flat piece of ground in the area, but still some of the over 3000 workers live in RVs or are bused in from other locations. It’s impossible to capture the scope of all the mining, but here’s an image of the main “pit”:
On the way back from the mine, we detoured to visit Gila Box National Riparian Area, a tree and grass-studded area along the Gila and San Francisco rivers. The river creates a stark contrast from the surrounding desert. In the “box”, there’s rushing water, green trees, wildlife, and swarms of mosquitoes. Everywhere. We couldn’t spend much time out of the vehicle without being bitten, so we drove through the area on the narrow, winding roads. This sign was unusual, we’d never seen this high a percentage…..but 19? Why not just round it up to 20? Who’s going to know the difference? Sheesh…..
That’s it for this trip, but we’ll have another update soon!