Thursday, April 27, 2023

Spring Travels

 Leaving Mohave Valley, we headed for Lake Havasu for some motor home work, then down to Tucson for a stay at Pima County Fairgrounds.  We've stayed here before; it isn't the fanciest RV park in the area, but for our stay it was the most convenient base to visit friends and medical facilities.  We've spent a lot of time in this area over the years, starting in 1971 when Brenda and I bought our first home here while stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB.  Tucson has lost some of the charm over the years as the area exploded in population, but they and the National Park Service have managed to protect a some of the most beautiful places in the area.  Sabino Canyon, the historic downtown area, Xavier Del Bac Mission, and always our favorite, Saguaro National Park.  Unique in location, the park has two sections, one east of town and one west, each within 10 miles of downtown. 

We spent one afternoon on the east, and larger section with 67,000 acres, a visitor center and loop drive.  Along the eight-mile drive are areas to park and read the interpretive panels or take a short hike on trails.  It was a gorgeous day with warm temperatures and sunny skies - a rare exception to the cold temperatures and wind we'd been experiencing.  At each stop along the drive, we were treated to amazing scenery and the myriad shapes of hundreds of Saguaro cactus, including a rare cristate or "crested" one:

Crested Saguaro

Although we enjoy the Tucson area, we were anxious to visit one of our favorite places in the Southwest, the eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains.  We always stay at Rusty's RV Ranch, a unique park that has 1/4 acre sites and great views of the night sky and mountains.  

The east side and the little town of Portal are well off the interstate and lightly populated.  Our first stop in Portal is the small store and cafe, where my #1 rated green-chili cheeseburger is served.  Around the store and in the nearby canyon the birding is world class, and the area where we saw our first Elegant Trogon, a tropical bird that makes a rare summer appearance in a small section of Southern Arizona and New Mexico.  It has a weird non-bird sounding call that we could hear well before seeing - you can hear it on this site (press the sound link to hear).

Famous among birders, Cave Creek Canyon and the surrounding areas is not only a great area for bird watching, but also a place to enjoy the magnificent scenery.  The road through the canyon winds its way through through the trees with the high colored rock walls of the canyon towering on each side.  Some of our views:  

Canyon Entrance

We enjoy the trails along the canyon; they're mostly level, well marked, and scenic:

We didn't have to go far to see and hear birds - this Eurasian Collared-Dove pair had a nest in the tree next to our RV:

Our visit here always includes a trip up into the mountains to visit the ghost town of Paradise.  Founded in 1901 when a vein of ore was discovered, the town gradually disappeared over the years and currently has a population of around 5 full-time residents.  Two of them are people we try to visit - Winston and Jackie who operate  the George Walker House, a "bed and no breakfast" cabin here, and at their home adjacent to the cabin maintain an area of feeders that attract an amazing variety of birds.  Gracious hosts, they invite visitors to join them on their porch where Jackie will describe the different birds that visit.  We were early this year, but were still treated to the antics of Acorn Woodpeckers and watched Bridled Titmouse and Scott's Orioles.  We truly appreciate their hospitality and hope it continues into our next visit. 

George Walker House

BIrding Area

Driving around Paradise, there are still a few structures and remnants to remind us of the past.  Still in use, the Paradise Cemetery provides a glimpse of life spans of early settlers and their families.

From Rusty's, we headed down I-10 to Las Cruces and a short visit to La Posta de Mesilla restaurant and a short trip to Hatch and Sparky's for my #2 ranked green-chili cheeseburger.  Alas, the line to get into Sparky's was around the block and with temperatures hovering in the low 40s, we decided to pass this time.  Then it was back on the road over Organ Pass, through Alamogordo with a stop at Tularosa and a visit to Inn of the Mountain Gods.  Driving North, we were surprised and happy to see Sierra Blanca covered in snow, a sight we haven't seen for a few years.  

Our next stop was to visit the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a huge refuge south of the small town of San Antonio.  We had a nice talk with the folks at the visitor center, but the refuge itself was very quiet this time of year; only a hundred or so Snow Geese and a small assortment of birds.  Then it was off to the famed Owl Cafe, which prides itself on it's "World Famous" green-chili cheeseburger:

My #3 Ranked Green-Chili Cheeseburger

We spent a few nights at the Socorro Fairgrounds RV Park, our base for visiting one of the most intriguing sites that we've seen in our travels.  

The Very Large Array (VLA) is located on the Plains of San Agustin far from any populated area and at an altitude of 7000'.  It's difficult to describe the sight of 28 huge radio telescopes that look like huge satellite dishes.  Each one is 82' in diameter, weighs 232 tons, and is mounted on tracks which allow it to be moved into different Y-shaped configurations.  The "Y" when superimposed onto a map of Washington DC actually extends beyond the beltway!  At the maximum alignment, the data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 22 miles across with the sensitivity of a dish 422 feet in diameter.  To give you an idea of the size of a dish, here's Brenda standing next to the spare on display.

What exactly the VLA sees is complicated; for an explanation, read this.  

One of the amazing aspects of the VLA is how they move these huge dishes into different configurations.  To find out how it works, watch this video.

It's impossible to describe the view of these huge disks as they stretch into the distance - you have to see them in person to understand.  It is truly a magical place:

Traveling North from Socorro, we hit I-40 for a stay at the Dancing Eagle Casino RV Park, which gave us a good base to explore the area.  This is a land of native Americans, with numerous tribes mixed in the various pueblos.  Our first visit was to Laguna Pueblo, a historic community dating back to 1400s. 

We were anxious to visit the Mission San Jose de Laguna.  Constructed between 1699 and 1701, the mission is still well maintained and active, with mass said each Sunday.  We were met by a friendly caretaker who gave us a tour and permission to take photos inside the church, a rare opportunity.

The obvious poverty of the surrounding pueblo was disappointing, but the mission, particularly the interior, was beautifully maintained.  


An original painting on canvas, restored and hung high on the wall to avoid vandalism:

The ceiling shows how individual pieces of wood were placed to create the colorful pattern:

  Our last stop was a visit to Acoma Pueblo, known as "Sky City" it is regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States.  High atop a mesa, there is no water or electricity for the less than 50 tribal members who live there year around.  The visitor center was closed this time of year, so we had to be content with looking at it from a distance.  As we've come to expect, the pueblo mission was the most prominent building that we could see.

After a short stay in Gallup, we continued our journey back to the Oregon Coast and Bandon where we're staying for the summer.  If your travels take you to the coast this summer, let us know - we'd love to see you!