Friday, November 18, 2016

Respite in Silver City

The last few days of this year’s trip were memorable for several reasons.  First, we discovered a new area to add to our list of Favorite Places.  It happened this way.  After a lovely visit with Aud and Trish in Tucson, we headed east in I-10  Except for a stop in San Angelo, we were not looking forward to the loooonnnng trip home.  As we scanned our maps for an overnight stop, we saw that Silver City, NM, was almost a perfect day’s drive away.

We had never been to Silver City, but had heard a lot about it from Neta Pope, a friend we met earlier this year in Santa Fe.  Neta lives in Silver City, and has co-authored a fascinating book about the history of Fort Bayard, which is located just outside of town.  The fort was established in 1866 by Company B of the 25th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.”  It was used as an outpost until 1899, and later served as an army tuberculosis hospital and veterans’ care facility.  

We decided a few days in Silver City to break up our trip were in order, and we were soon parked at Manzano’s RV Park on the western edge of town.  The park is a unique, family-owned facility.  There are none of the long rows of RV spaces with hardly enough space to walk between them. Manzano’s is laid out to take advantage of the views and the native trees which screen each RV sight.  Here are a couple of photos taken from our site.  You can see that we had a great place to watch the sunset.

We wound up spending an entire week in Silver City.  The city itself is situated just on the edge of the Gila National Forest, and has a thriving downtown with interesting restaurants,

quaint shops,

terrific farmer's market where John really loaded us up on veggies,

and beautiful murals painted on the sides of many of the downtown buildings.

Part of the interesting history of Silver City is the “Big Ditch.”  In 1895, much of the downtown was destroyed by a devastating flash flood.  When the water receded, the main street was gone, and in its place was a ditch some 35 feet deep.  A subsequent flood washed away any remaining soil, right down to bedrock.  Bridges crossing the ditch, which is adjacent to the new main street, give visitors a view into the abyss. 

We took day trips to several points of interest nearby.  One of these is The Catwalk National Historic Trail some 60 miles up the road near the small town of Glenwood.  The original catwalk was built into the sides of Whitewater Canyon.  It held water pipes that served the mines farther up the canyon.  Floods damaged or destroyed the original structure, but a new catwalk allows visitors to walk along the canyon walls, some 20-30 feet above the stream.  In places, the canyon is only 20 feet wide.  Unfortunately, almost half of the catwalk upstream was heavily damaged by floods in 2013, and has not yet been rebuilt.  We walked as far as we could, and hope repairs are made by the time we visit again.

Since the catwalk itself is made of expanded metal, you can see what is beneath you.  We had taken the dogs with us, and when the distance between us and the stream bed approached 20 feet, Kota was noticeably concerned.  The Border Collies took it all in stride, but Kota hung back and hugged the canyon wall.  At the end of the catwalk, we took off their leashes and let them explore the stream.  When we started back, we left them off leash, and Kota was not in the least afraid of walking “on air” along the catwalk.

Another day trip was to the Santa Rita Copper Mine, also known as the Chino Mine.  The open pit mine is impossible to miss if you are in town.  The entire mountain to the east is terraced, revealing the layers of rock that have been mined.  It is famous as the third oldest open pit copper mine in the world, and we enjoyed looking down from the view point and watching the enormous dump trucks and other machinery working below.  If you don’t have a feel for just how big these giant machines are, just look at me standing in front of one of their tires.  It towers above me, and there is a good 2-3 feet of tire buried in the ground!  

It's hard to realize those tires are propelling the giant trucks which look like ants crawling along the roads down in the pit.

The pallet of colors exposed by the mining was beautiful, and we enjoyed our day.  

One of the most special aspects of the Silver City area is the abundance of hiking trails.  We took one such trail, the San Francisco Hot Springs Trail, on our way back from The Catwalk.  The trail was rough, with a quantity of volcanic rocks along the trail.  It wound through a mesquite thicket, then down into a dry arroyo.  We were told there were hot springs some 2 miles down the trail and we had hoped to see them.  It was getting late, however, and there was no sign of water so we backtracked and headed home.

Our favorite, though, was Dragonfly Trail.  

The trailhead was only a couple of miles from our RV park, and the trail was a lovely four-mile loop.  There were beautiful, grassy meadows with occasional cedars and yucca.

The trail dropped steeply into the stream bed, which was lined with tall cottonwoods and had intermittent pools where the dogs could cool off.

It was along this stream that we saw the one and only snake of our entire trip...even though we spent a lot of time in rattlesnake country.  This one, though, was a lovely little grass snake that seemed to think it was invisible.

The best part, though, were the petroglyphs along the stream.  We found two dragonfly petroglyphs which give the trail its name... several other figures and symbols scratched into the rocks by the native people who inhabited this area several hundred years ago.  

It’s a magical place, and one we look forward to seeing again.       

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Time in Tucson

The dogs and I took a quick walk in the woods on Sunday morning, October 23, before leaving Williams.  This big, black raven followed us from tree to tree, croaking at us the entire time.

Then we were off, down the road southbound toward Tucson.  And when I say down the road, I mean it.  We kept seeing signs like these.


We wondered who could wait 10 miles if their vehicle was truly out of control.  And finally, near the end of the descent was the dreaded (or maybe welcome) Runaway Truck Ramp.

We could tell that it had recently been used, and were glad it wasn’t by us.

As we neared Phoenix, saguaro began to appear on the hillsides.

And then, around 11:30 we topped a ridge to find a line of vehicles stopped in front of us, stretching as far as we could see.  We were trapped; there were no exits and no place to go.  Our Waze software said there was an eight-mile backup and we wondered if we would be sleeping by the side of the road.  (At least we had our bed with us if that happened.)

The dogs didn't care; they were snoozing happily in their favorite places in the truck.

After almost an hour sitting there wondering about the delay, the cars ahead finally began to move, and we were on our way, never knowing what had caused the problem.  We assume it was an accident, but all traces had been removed by the time we got there.

Our campsite in Tucson was on the outskirts of town at the Pima County Fairgrounds.  We had lots of room for the dogs to explore, and the stars were brilliant.  We spent two nights so we could visit with my former mother-in-law, Audrey Wann, and sister-in-law, Trisha Wann.  We were glad to find them well.  Here is a photo of the four of us with the scarecrow Audrey assembled for the competition at her apartment complex.  I don’t know if she won, but she should have.

I spent the afternoon with Trish and her best friend, Dash, who was a little unsure of me.  (After all, I smelled a lot like other dogs he didn’t know!)  But he was nice enough to pose for a portrait.  

Later, John and I picked up the truck, which had been at the Volvo dealer's for repair to the driver's door handle mechanism, and got ready for next morning's departure.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cliffs and Canyons

We were sad to leave Bryce Canyon, but pulled out and headed south, anticipating more spectacular sights along the way.  We weren’t disappointed.  Reversing our route into the park, we had early morning views of Red Canyon…

and past an abandoned homestead.

We skirted the edge of Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park, wishing we had more time to explore there.

Although the road itself left a lot to be desired, the cliffs along either side of Hwy 89 were amazing.

We crossed the border into Arizona and took Alt 89 past Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.

As we approached, we stopped for another “table with a view” lunch at one of the overlooks.

Information at the viewpoint described efforts to increase the population of wild California Condors in the canyonlands of southern Utah and northern Arizona.  Beginning in 1996, 6-10 condors that were hatched and raised in captivity have been released annually in this area.  They are monitored and receive supplemental feeding until they can survive on their own.   As of June 30, the condor population in the Vermillion Cliffs area numbered 73, and more birds were released in September of this year. 

Except for a brief glimpse of one flying in Bryce Canyon NP, unfortunately we didn’t see any condors.  They are the largest flying land bird in North America.  Scavengers that feed primarily on large land animals, they have a wing span of 9 1/2 feet at maturity, and can weigh up to 25 pounds.  They breed for life, and can live up to 60 years in the wild.  We wish them well in their beautiful home among the Vermillion Cliffs. 

We continued on our way and crossed the Colorado at the very upper end of Grand Canyon National Park.  

Then across miles and miles and miles of Northern Arizona, through Flagstaff to Williams, AZ, which calls itself “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon.”  Williams has the distinction to be the last town in America on Historic Route 66 to be bypassed by IH 40.  If you want to get a flavor for that historic highway, you can “Get your kicks on Route 66” in Williams.  

We also got our kicks at the lovely Dog Town State Park a few miles outside of Williams, and in the national forest behind our RV park, where the Bagley Pack had a good time sniffing around. 

We also got our kicks at Grand Canyon National Park.  The park is 50+ miles north of Williams, so we had a bit of a hike to get there.  On the way, we stopped to stretch our legs on one of several roads into Kaibab National Forest.  Rue was determined to dig out a ground squirrel, but never succeeded.

The canyon itself defies description.  A mile deep and 18 miles wide in places, it overwhelms the senses.

Dogs are allowed on the trail along the canyon rim, so the Bagley Pack accompanied us on our walk to some of the viewpoints.  At several of them, we had to stand in line for a chance to look down into the canyon.  It was a mob scene, with dozens of tour buses discharging hundreds of tourists.  It was ironic that many of them didn’t appear to be interested in the view.  They were just elbowing their way to the edge so they could take selfies with the canyon in the background.  Strange, and sad.  

We left the area near the visitor center in favor of some of the less-popular overlooks and were able to enjoy the views as the afternoon shadows crept into the canyon.

We had planned to spend two days at Grand Canyon, but the crowds were so thick, and so many of the viewpoints accessible only by shuttle or a several-mile walk that we decided not to return for a second day.