Camping in the Snowies

Camping in the Snowies

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Tour of Southeastern Arizona: Marana, Tombstone, Bisbee, Patagonia,Sonoita, Kartchner Caverns, Tucson

The annual Marana AZ Bluegrass Festival was our first destination. It is fun to see the shows but we actually enjoy the campground picking and socializing just as much. Denny and Elaine Carlson saved us a camping spot and greeted us with hugs. They were on their way home to Minnesota after the festival. We will miss them as we do all our snowbird friends. 

                Our view of the stage from under well placed shade tents. 

            Hats and sunscreen and shorts for the warm, sunny weather. 

Dick and Becky Keidel, cousins from Nebraska who winter in Green Valley AZ, drove up to see us on Sunday. They were also getting ready to go back north. It was good to see them and catch up on family news. 
The campground cleared out quickly this Monday in mid-April. We pulled Luci the Airstream east onto Interstate 10 toward Tucson. Our camp this evening will be in Bisbee but we will visit Tombstone on the way. 
Turning south at Benson onto AZ highway 80 we travel along the San Pedro valley for a while. Flowing wells provide plenty of water here. The San Pedro river area is a protected riparian conservation site and a stop for birders this time of year. This is a broad valley between the Dragoon and Whetstone mountains where mining brought men into this wild country in the 1870's and 80's. The Apache Indians were also causing problems and lawlessness was rampant. Tombstone AZ was a wild place with brothels and saloons. Nowadays Tombstone is a tourist area with boardwalks on each side of the main street. Cafes, antique and junk shops, trinkets and jewelry for sale and a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral. We got to Tombstone just in time to see it. The three Earp men and Doc Holliday confronted the McLaury and Clanton brothers in a "showdown over control of Tombstone" says my brochure. We bought our tickets and took our seats on bleachers for the show.  

        On the street before the show, the Earps and Holliday are available for pictures.

                      Part of the action. Lots of gunshots. People down, etc. 

After the show Dave and I found good eats at the OK Cafe then we proceed down the road to Bisbee. Bisbee is located in the Mule Mountains at around 5,000 feet elevation. The longest car tunnel in Arizona is located just west of Bisbee. Our campground is on a hill at the Queen Mine. Everything in Bisbee is on a hill. Most of the houses are accessed only by climbing stairs. They celebrate those stairs with a stair climb called the Bisbee 1000. We have reservations for the Queen Mine Tour and know it will be chilly down in the mine. Something like 57 degrees. Jackets, hard hats, vests and lights on, we climb onto the tram car and head down. 

Our tour guide is showing us how to drill holes for dynamiting. He shows us where there is copper, silver and other minerals that remain in this copper mine. No mining is being done at present here or in the open pit mine east of town. 

Our view of Bisbee and the Queen Mine entrance from the campground.

On Tuesday we head downtown for a golf cart tour of the town. It was a great way to learn about the town from a knowledgeable native gal who was a good golf car driver on the narrow, winding, hilly streets. 
Stairs and more stairs all over town. 

                 The Copper Queen Hotel
                  Copper clad doors. 

    A copper statue on the main square. 

                        An overlook from the highest point in town. 

         A panoramic picture of the view above the town of Bisbee. 

A mining company still owns mines in Arizona including the Queen Mine. The company built a company store in the Art Deco style. This store is now an indoor mall housing a restaurant, bookstore, a realty office, a coffee shop and coffee roasting area and various offices. 

            Copper chandeliers as seen from the second floor of the company store.

The Table resturant where we ate dinner Monday night. Dave has tried to recreate their roasted jalapeƱo soup since returning to Surprise. We asked for the recipe but our waitress said it was unavailable. 

There are flies on several buildings along the Main Street which winds down the canyon to the highway. According to our guide, because of a lack of sanitary sewers back in the day, a contest for gathering the most flies was held. Thus the celebration of flies. 

We found a luthier business which was not open. Our guide told us that many businesses were closed early in the week and open through the weekend. 

     A neat Bisbee street mural. I think there are flames in this mural probably referring to fires that destroyed parts of Bisbee in the early days. 
After a nice lunch at the coffee shop we stop in the book store where Dave found a great book "Chasing Arizona" by Ken Lamberton.  This book tells of the author's "yearlong obsession" with this state telling stories and describing the state during visits he made over the course of a year. 

We have reservations at Patagonia State Park for the next two nights so on the road we go west from Bisbee onto highway 90 through Sierra Vista known for its long standing military reservation called Fort Huachuca. Military intelligence lives here. North on 90 and then west on 82 highway through Sonoita and Patagonia.  The State Park is located on a lake formed by damming up Sonoita creek. All the RV sites are paved and level with water and electricity. Birders come here in droves. The birds are one reason we are here. Our camp site is located in a loop to the east of the more populated loop which has a swimming beach and boat launch. This is hill country and the hills are covered with ocotillo flaming in bloom.  Mesquite covers the valleys. The mesquite is also in yellow bloom and birds are everywhere. 

My little camera cannot capture the hillside ocotillo bloom. 

        The mesquite bosque below our campsite with the lake just below the hillside. 

               Dave reading the "Chasing Arizona" book at the campsite. 

Birds were chirping, calling, flying and feeding in the trees, on the ground and on the water. The yellow rumped warblers were plentiful. Blue heron, cormorant and coots, teal, kingfisher and osprey were on or along the shore. There were small bats in the air at dusk. Cardinals and vermillion flycatchers added color to the trail along the river. Many birders with spotting scopes or cameras with long lenses were present making us feel like amateurs with our one pair of binoculars and cell phone cameras. 
Quiet cool nights were good for sleeping. Thursday was the day to go to the Nature Conservancy Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve just off My Blue Heaven road near Patagonia. Dave and I walked the trail along an abandoned railroad bed and down beside Sonoita Creek; a nice loop trail. It was a good time for birdwatching, the leaves on the trees were not fully out so we could spot the birds if they moved. We did see a pair of deer walking quietly along the creek. It was a wonderful hike, a magical place. Afterwards we drove into Patagonia for second breakfast or brunch at Grounds coffee shop cafe. It was so good we ate second breakfast there again the next morning!

                          A church building now an Hispanic heritage center. 

We decided to look for a winery since we were in Arizona wine country. Supposedly there are 90 wineries in Arizona. East of Sonoita near the town of Elgin AZ we found the Flying Leap winery. We recommend their wine if any of my blog readers come across it. We tasted one Chardonnay and several reds including Grenache and Cabernet. 
On Thursday we had reservations for three nights at Kartchner Caverns State Park. This is another nice state park with level paved campsites. Water and electricity and clean showers with plenty of hot water are always appreciated. 

     Our trailer with Dave reading in the shade at Kartchner caverns. 

We got settled in at our camp site and walked over to the Discovery Center where the cave tour begins. There is a good film of the story of the cave's discovery and development into a state park. It is well worth visiting this living cave. The staff and tour guides go to great lengths to keep the environment pristine including air lock entrances, timed lighting, hand rails and frequent requests not to touch any rock outcrops. The ranger has to return and rinse the area that is touched by a human hand so they are very vigilant. We saw the Big Room of the two rooms open for tours. This room is home to a protected species of bat and during the summer it is closed to tours. We were able to see it just before it closed.  This is a warm moist cave and a great contrast to the dry desert surroundings. It is an Arizona gem, a must see. We will return another time to see the Throne Room. 

Last year's Century Plant blossom. This plant only blooms once, produces seeds, then dies. 

Friday is the day for a visit to Ramsey Canyon to attempt to see more birds. I'm hoping to see some bird I have never before seen. From Kartchner Caverns the road leads us south through Sierra Vista. The riparian area of Ramsey Canyon is famous for birding and has good paths and benches for watching hummingbirds at their feeders. Tall sycamore trees, manzanita, pines and shrubs protect the shady Ramsey Creek which trickles and falls down the canyon. Dave and I climb the path along the creek and then took the more challenging overlook trail which gains 500 feet in elevation. It was a lovely day for a hike. 

   More desert loving, these aloe plants seemed out of place in the forest. 

The overlook. Many birders were looking for a flame colored tanager and some kind of flycatcher that shouldn't have been in Ramsey Canyon. We saw some deer and a Tom turkey and heard a robin. I actually did see an Arizona woodpecker, a first for me. 
Back in Sierra Vista we Googled for lunch ideas. The German Cafe had good reviews and was nearby. We gave iPhone, Siri, the address and she guided us to the tiny cafe in a nondescript strip mall. It was wonderful!! Schnitzel and sauerkraut and hot German potato salad, tasty coleslaw, currywurst and French fries and rum cake for dessert. It is a good thing we got there early, the place was packed by the time we finished our meal. I "liked" the cafe on Facebook and get regular tasty-looking posts. 
Back to the campground after grocery shopping and a gas fill up. 
On Saturday we went to the famous Amerind Museum and Art Gallery east of Benson on Interstate 10 in Texas Canyon. This area looks a lot like the area around Laramie Wyoming and the block-like rocks of Texas Canyon look like those at Veedawoo. We turn off onto a dirt road into a ranch. Sure enough this was a ranch and champion quarter horses were raised here. But there is a compound of buildings which hold William Fulton's collection of Native American art and artifacts collected from Alaska to Aegentina and from the Ice Age to the present. A lot to see. The art gallery features western art and also artwork of contemporary Native American artists. Research of southwestern anthropology, archaeology, history and Native American studies is ongoing and funded by the Amerind Foundation. Mr. Fulton collected the Native American things and his wife raised and showed the horses. The day we were there, Native American women were weaving baskets and had other art objects for sale. The Museum store had nice things for sale, too. I bought a small basket made of pine needles. It is a work of art. 

Sunday, we broke camp, dumped at the handy dump station and had lunch in a parking lot oasis there at the cavern's Discovery Center. I watched a tiny ashthroated flycatcher building a nest in the junction between two sections of fence. Vermillion flycatchers were active. I forgot to mention that hiking trails from the campground were good places to spot birds. I was using the binoculars and Dave was birdspotting. He noticed a movement and was astonished to see a ringtail coati. I wasn't fast enough to see anything but a furry shape disappearing into the brush. 

We camped in Laura Barry's driveway in Tucson Sunday night. Dave and Laura played lots of fiddle tunes and we enjoyed her nice patio and backyard gardens. Laura even cooked us a French toast and bacon for breakfast the next morning. It was a fine vacation and also good to get back home to Sun Village. Luci is snug in her berth in RV storage for a while.