Thursday, December 5, 2019

4 December 2019 El Paso to Kerrville TX

The drive from El Paso to Kerrville, was a “butt numbing cannon ball” run for 478 miles across West Texas. The desert mountains along the way provided nice scenery but the long stretches of straight roads still made it mind numbing. We started the audio book of Season 3 of Dear Bob and Sue, which provided many laughs that made the ride tolerable. It was fun to listen to their descriptions of their experiences of some of the parks we had just visited. We pulled into Buckhorn Lake RV resort just after dark, happy to be able to sit still for a couple of days. We will visit some winerys while we are here and have dinner with David’s nephew.   

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

2 December 2019 Tucson AZ to El Paso TX

This was another long driving day. The drive across the Sonora Desert of southern Arizona and New Mexico on I-10 was both scenic, with majestic mountain ranges, and bleak due to lack of vegetation. The weather was clear with some strong cross winds for the first couple of hours, which turned into a tail wind as we went along. The traffic through El Paso was very hectic so it was with relief we pulled into the Mission RV Park ($40 per night with no discounts) on the eastern edge of El Paso. It’s a fairly large park, in an industrial area, with a fair amount of traffic noise from I-10. But it will do for a couple of nights. The sites is gravel, fairly level, good water pressure, 50 amp, and good (but slow) WiFi. We will be back to visit Tucson sometime in the future since there are so many things we did not get to do, like Pima Air Museum, the Desert Museum, Tombstone, the scenic drive in Chiricahua NM to name a few. But we were very happy to drive across the border into Texas after 11 months on the road and 8 months since we were last in Texas (April). Its good to be back in our home state!
Welcome Home Sign

1 December 2019 Saguaro National Park

With this being our last day in Tucson, we decided to visit Saguaro National Park. Saguaro NP is split in two sections, a western and eastern park. The western park is only a few miles from where we are staying, so we decided to visit it first. After exploring the exhibits in the visitor center, we watched the park film, visited the shop and collected our 67th Passport Stamp. We toured the 6 mile scenic drive in the western portion of the park, then headed over to the eastern portion. Along the way we stopped for a Mexican Sunday fix for lunch. In the eastern portion park we drove the 9 mile scenic drive and then hiked up the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail for a mile before the fading daylight made us turn back (2.1 miles, 459 Feet of elevation gain, 677 calories burned). The western portion of the park is more lush and rugged than the eastern potion. But the eastern portion of the park is larger and has taller mountains (including some alpine areas), but the majority is set aside as a wilderness area with limited access. This is the last national park unit we expect to visit this year. It has been a busy and fun year. At the end of this year, we have visited 60 out of the145 National Parks and National Monuments. To celebrate, we went to a brewery and enjoyed a couple of good craft beers!
Saguaro NP Entrance Sign

Rugged terrain of the western sector

Saguaro Row

Behemoth in the desert

Cactus Cross

Cactus Hill

Desert Stream

Tucson Valley

Saturday, November 30, 2019

30 November 2019 Chiricahua NM

After two days of weather, we were anxious to get out for a hike. We headed out early to Chiricahua National Monument in the south eastern portion of Arizona. Chiricahua became a national monument in 1924. It protects a rhyolite rock formation. We arrived at the visitor center to find that the scenic drive was closed due to rock slides, caused by the previous days storms, as well as snow and ice. We explored the exhibits, watched the park film and collected our 66th Passport Stamp. The hike we intended to do, the Echo Canyon loop, starts at the end of the closed scenic drive. So after talking with the ranger about our options, we hiked up the Lower Rhyolite Canyon to the junction and took the Sarah Deming Canyon trial until we could just see Balanced Rock in the distance (4 miles, 719 feet of elevation gain and 1163 calories burned). As we climbed up the trail the snow and slush became deeper and the trail more slippery. With our boots worn from over 500 miles of hiking this year and not a lot of tread left, we decided to turn back rather than risk a fall. After hiking back to the visitor center, we checked back in and were told the scenic road was still closed and they had not estimate for when or if it would be opened again today. So we headed back to Tucson. 
Entrance Sign

Rhyolite Rock Formations

Rhyolite Rock Formations

Rhyolite Rock Formations

Rhyolite Rock Formations and a Yucca stalk

David on the snowy trail

Frozen Bushes on the ridge

Yucca in the snow

Rhyolite Rock Formations

Leslie on the snowy trail

Rhyolite Rock Formations

Thursday, November 28, 2019

28 November 2019 Happy Thanksgiving

This is our first Thanksgiving away from family. So we cooked up a smaller RV version of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We don’t have much in the way of fancy dishes, due to the space limits, but it tasted just as good out of the pot! We had a wonderful meal and reflected on the many blessings the good Lord has bestowed on us for us to be thankful for. 

Thanksgiving Feast RV style

27 November 2019 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Today we took the farthest NM away, Organ Pipe Cactus NM, which is in the southwestern corner of Arizona. The NM protects the only stands of Organ Pipe Cactus in the US. The park is at the very northern edge of the cactuses range. There are also a large number of Saguaro Cactus in the park. After exploring the exhibits in the visitor center, we watched the park film and collected our 65th Passport Stamp. After talking to the Ranger, due to our limited time, we decided to take the Ajo Mountain Loop Scenic drive. Leslie drove us around this rustic gravel and dirt road. The terrain was beautiful with the double arch being the highlight. The desert in this area is lush due to the winter and summer rain season rains. There were plenty of Organ Pipe and Saguaro cactus, along with yucca, prickle pear, multiple types of cholla and of course creosote. The weather was moving in so we decided to head back to the Wanderer rather than risk getting caught in the expected flash flooding. We beat the rain to Tucson and took the opportunity to go to the grocery store to pick up some Items for tomorrows feast. 
Critter sighting: We saw a wild burro on the drive to the park and a coyote on the way back.  
Entrance Sign

Organ Pipe Cactus

David by a Saguaro Cactus

The Behemoth in the back country

Double Arch in Arch Canyon

26 November 2019 Two in One

After 8.5 hours traveling yesterday, we really did not want to drive long distances today. So we decided to go to the nearest two National Monuments. We first went to Casa Grande National Monument near the intersection of I-10 and I-8. Casa Grande is an adobe structure built by the Hohokam Indians around 1350. It was made a national archeological site in 1891 and a national monument in 1908. The Hohokam Indians had learned to farm the desert in the area using seasonal and flash flooding to irrigate. The Hohokam had started gathering into larger settlements from 1200-1350 but then reverted to individual farms over the next hundred years for reasons unknown. The base of the walls is over 4 feet thick. It was two stories, which is unusual in early adobe structures. We explored the exhibits in the visitor center, watched the park film and collected our 63rd Passport Stamp. Then walked around the Casa Grande. Two of the portals on the second floor align with the summer and winter Solstice and another two align with the spring and fall equinoxes. In the late 1800s, there was a stage coach line that ran past the building and people carved the names into the adobe!
Entrance Sign
Casa Grande

After Casa Grande, we drove up to Tonto National Monument on the shores of Roosevelt Lake. David had seen the lake from the air before but this was his first visit to the area. Tonto NM is cliff dwellings that were built around 1350. There are two sets of cliff dwellings. The trail to the upper cliff dwellings was closed due to a flash flood that took out the trail. The lower dwellings were open and we climbed the half-mile trail to the dwellings under a large overhang. Approximately 40 people lived in this set of structures. They are not sure why the Hohokam built these structures since they were quite a ways from the Salt River where their agricultural fields were located. The adobe and rock structures were well preserved and early archeologists found tools, pottery and woven cotton cloth. The Hohokam grew cotton and wove colorful cloth which the used for clothing and traded. We explored the exhibits in the visitor center, hiked up to the ruins, watched the park film and collected our 64th Passport Stamp. Then it was a 2.5 hour drive back to Tucson. Critter sighting: We saw a rather large Tarantula on the hike up.
Entrance Sign
Cliff Dwellings
Leslie in the cliff dwellings