Monthly Archives: February 2016

Week 26: Tucson, Ajo and Gila Bend, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

We were very happy to be back in Arizona.

Back in Arizona!

Back in Arizona!

Tucson was our first stop and we camped at the Gilbert Ray County Park, a small campground in Tucson Mountain Park in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. It is a county park that is very close to the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson Studios and Saguaro National Park West.

We arrived at Gilbert Ray about noon in order to ensure a campsite because they do not take reservations. Good thing we arrived early. We were the first in a line of many to get a site for the fours days we wanted to stay and explore Tucson. As soon as we finished setting up we headed over to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. I read a lot about the Desert Museum on the many blogs I follow and was anxious to see it. And I must say it was fantastic! There are two miles of trails that wind through various Sonoran Desert habitats featuring flora and fauna native to the region, 16 desert botanical gardens, and earth sciences center cave showcasing minerals, animal exhibitions and animal-keeper demonstrations. They almost had to kick us  out of  the place at closing! It’s the number one attraction in Tucson and now we know why.

Desert Museum

Desert Museum

Desert Museum

Desert Museum

Desert Museum

Desert Museum

Fox at the Desert Museum

Fox at the Desert Museum

Desert Museum-Cholla Cactus

Desert Museum-Cholla Cactus

Desert Museum

Desert Museum

Desert Museum - Mountain Lion

Desert Museum – Mountain Lion

Yes...we see you.

Yes…we see you.

The next day we drove downtown to Tucson’s 4th Avenue District to meet a riding friend of Ralph’s for lunch. It’s a funky area with shops and restaurants. It was a lot like 6th Avenue in Austin. I love college towns. They are so alive with well…everything! After lunch we went to the Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show. What a place that was! It had everything from ready-made jewelry from dinosaur dung to ancient fossils for sale. It was interesting with a lot of eye candy.

Funky 4th St in downtown Tucson-top of a bar

Funky 4th St in downtown Tucson-top of a bar

Funky 4th St in downtown Tucson-all locks

Funky 4th St in downtown Tucson-all locks

Funky 4th St in downtown Tucson

Funky 4th St in downtown Tucson

Fossil

Fossil

Fossil

Fossil

Tucson is surrounded by Saguaro National Park East and West. The National Park was established to protect the Saguaro Cactus. The area we visited was like a forest of cacti. It was something to see. We took the scenic Bajada Loop Drive to explore the park. Here’s a few photos of the beautiful area.

These boots are made for walkin'

These boots are made for walkin’

Ramada with picnic table. Love this!

Ramada with picnic table. Love this!

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro Cactus

I also toured the Old Tucson Studios. I wasn’t sure about going there, but I decided to and it was interesting and educational too! The studio has hosted 300 film and TV productions since 1939 including film classics such as Rio Bravo, Tombstone and The Three Amigos. Many, many famous stars walked the streets of Old Tucson like John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Clint Eastwood and Kurt Russell. There was a film playing that showed all the films made at the studios and the various stars. The scenery and buildings are authentic and some very old. There was a fire (arson)  several years ago, so some of the buildings were rebuilt after the fire. I took a walking tour and a train tour of the entire grounds. Loved it!

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

Old Tucson Studio

After the studio tour I headed over to the Mission San Xavier Del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kina. It was destroyed by Apaches in 1770. The current building was built between 1783-1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. It is considered the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. It was so beautiful! They are refurbishing the building.  As you can see the left side has been completed.  They are trying to raise funds to complete the right side.

Mission

Mission

Mission

Mission

Our time was short in Tucson and I hope to get back there sometime in the future.

Ajo, Arizona

We drove about 120 miles southwest from Tucson to Ajo, Arizona in order to visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. Ajo was a copper mining town back in the day. It’s a cute, little town about 25 miles north of the park. It is not far from the Mexican border so there were a few border patrol check points.   Let’s just say…we didn’t fit the profile. We actually boon docked (no hook ups) in the wild on Darby Well Road (BLM land). It felt so good to be back in the wild and the wide open spaces.

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Historic Ajo

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Old Copper Mine

We spent the next day at Organ Pipe and drove the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Loop. Stops were numbered along the way and there was a brochure that guided us through the 18 stops. The park was formed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 to project the Organ Pipe Cactus which are rare north of the Mexican border. The cacti do not like cold weather.

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Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus

 

Gila Bend, Arizona

Our next stop was Gila Bend (pronounced He-la Bend) so we could visit the Painted Rock Petroglyphs Site. There is a campground right at the site. The campsites were very large and private with no hookups. Our senior rate was a whopping $4 per night. We could walk to the petroglyphs and also found a Geocache nearby.

That's us...the large one in the middle

That’s us…the large one left of middle

Another Geocashe found!

Another Geocashe found!

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is an ancient archaeological site containing hundreds of symbolic and artistic rock etchings, or “petroglyphs”, produced centuries ago by prehistoric people’s.

Petroglyph Site

Petroglyph Site

Petroglyph Site

Petroglyph Site

Petroglyph

Petroglyph Site

Gila Bend has made national news by becoming the nation’s leader in the creation of a modern, renewable energy grid. It is home to four solar plant operations. I don’t understand why there are not more of these solar plants.

Our next stop is Yuma and a stay with my nephew Kevin and his family. And then friends will be joining us in the desert for some fun!

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Another beautiful sunset

Driving from Gila Bend to Yuma

Driving from Gila Bend to Yuma

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Weeks 25-26: New Orleans and Austin

New Orleans, LA

This was my first time returning to NOLA since 1981. I cannot believe it has been that long. The last time was a weekend trip from Dallas where I was attending training classes on Northern Telecom while working at PacTel. It was fun, but this time was much more fun. My friend, Jane, flew in from San Francisco for the four days. . Jane and I stayed at a lovely old, boutique hotel in the French Quarter on Chartres Street. Ralph joined us for part of the time. The first day we were wondering around the streets of the French Quarter we learned that the first parade of the Mardi Gras season was that very evening. We were thrilled to be able to see some of Mardi Gras without being there for the actual six days of Mardi Gras and all its craziness. We really didn’t know what to expect and were a little surprised when we realized it was the XXX Parade! We’re not prudes by any stretch of the imagination, but we were a little surprised at the floats and what they depicted. We looked at each other with WTF looks and then laughed really hard. There were several bands and marchers in costumes. Jane and I bought wigs to keep our heads warm (it was REALLY cold!) and we fit right in with our blue and red wigs. It was really fun.

Jane and I went to the Voodoo Museum the next day. It was in a small house and was very dusty and educational. I bet you didn’t know that Voodoo means spirit (usually for good, not evil) and Voodoo practitioners are Catholic! It is a mix of Catholicism and African spiritual traditions. We ate at some good restaurants and in the evening we went to Frenchmen’s Street to listen to the live music playing up and down the street.

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Voodoo Museum

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Voodoo Museum

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Voodoo Museum

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Voodoo Museum

 

We visited one of the very old cemetery’s; this one was in an Ashley Judd movie.

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Old cemetery

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Old cemetery

The last day Ralph came back to pick me up and the three of us took a city wide tour of NOLA, including the Garden District, the 9th Ward, Mechanics Street, etc. Ten years after Katrina and there are still remnants of the destruction.

We toured the Garden District and passed by the houses of John Goodman, Sandra Bullock, Ann Rice and Archie Manning, While we were in front of Archie’s house he came out and got in his car. The tour van driver stopped and Ralph rolled down his window and talked to Archie. Ralph had a message for Payton. It was good luck in the Super Bowl. In hindsight I guess he didn’t need luck. Archie smiled and said, “Ok”. Afterwards we had lunch and Jane took off for the airport and we returned to our campground just south of NOLA in Westwego.

And west we went! Our next stop as in Beaumont, Texas for an overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot. You cannot say I don’t have diversity in my life. From a five star hotel one night to a Walmart parking lot the next!

Austin, Texas

Our next stop was Austin, Texas. I’ve always wanted to visit Austin because I’v heard good things about it. It’s the Texas state capital and the home to the University of Texas. It also where Texas Hill Country begins and goes west to El Paso. It was a very picturesque town and reminded me a lot of Sacramento. We took a tour of the city on a double decker bus (where I lost my new hat and scarf due to the wind) and got a nice overview of the city. We then walked over to the state capital building and took a self tour through the capital. It’s a very beautiful building. Now I know exactly where the terrible legislation originates! We ended up at Stubb’s BBQ and I had the best smoked chicken I’ve ever eaten.

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Texas State Capital Dome

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Texas State Capital

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Texas State Capital

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Lone Stars Everywhere!

 

After the tour we met up with a work friend, Jay Jackson, and his new wife Anne.   We met at the historic Driskill Hotel for drinks and then we headed to 6th Street for music. Austin is known for their music and they didn’t disappoint!

 

I would like to have stayed longer, so there may be a return visit in the future.

From Austin it was three very long days to get to our next tour area; Tucson, Arizona. Because of extremely high winds in West Texas, we were stuck in a Walmart parking lot in Fort Stockton, Texas. The winds were blowing 30 – 40 MPH with gusts of 65 MPH. It’s not a good idea to drive a huge box down the highway at 60 MPH with those kind of winds. I talked with one of the other RV drivers in the parking lot who had come from the west and asked him how it was. He said it was awful and a couple times the wind pushed him over a half lane before he could get it back! We made the right decision to stay in Fort Stockton another day. The following day it was blowing around 20 MPH, but it wasn’t too bad for Ralph. I certainly didn’t drive that day.I was happy to finally arrive in Tucson and start exploring the area.

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Weeks 23 – 24 Apalachicola, Port St Joe and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Port St Joe

St Joseph’s Peninsula State Park is on a peninsula at the end of the road on the Gulf of Mexico. St Joseph Bay is on the other side of the peninsula. This park and the next one are listed as two of Florida’s best state parks. The weather was very cool the entire time we were at the park and there was a small tornado that took out four power poles and we were without power for one day.  I took the opportunity to drive the 35 miles eastward to visit the small town of Apalachicola, population is about 2400.

Sugar sand beaches, but no emerald waters. Too stormy.

Sugar sand beaches, but no emerald waters. Too stormy.

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico

Beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Looking west at sunset

Looking west at sunset

Campfire

Campfire

Guess where this truck is from?

Guess where this truck is from?

Answer: Texas!

Apalachicola

“Apalachicola” comes from the Apalachicola tribe  and is a combination of Hitchti words apalahchi, meaning “on the other side”, and okli, meaning “people”. In original reference to the settlement and the subgroup within the Seminole tribe, it probably meant “people on the other side of the river”. Many inhabitants of Apalachicola, have said their name means “land of the friendly people”.

In 1849, Apalachicola physician Dr. John Gorrie (1802–1855) discovered the cold-air process of refrigeration and patented an ice machine in 1850. He had experimented to find ways to lower the high temperatures of fever patients. His patent laid the groundwork for development of modern refrigeration and air-conditioning, making Florida and the South more livable year round. The city has a monument to him, and a replica of his ice machine is on display in the John Gorrie Museum.

Thank you Dr. Gorrie for the ice  and thank you Wikipedia for the info!

First Ice Machine

First Ice Machine

Maker of first ice machine and a Mason

Maker of first ice machine and a Mason

Apalachicola has a downtown area with nice shops, restaurants, and bars and I explored most of them.  The next day I returned for the Oyster Cook Off.

Once a year there is an oyster cook off for non-restaurant folks to show off their skills.  There is also live music and things to entertain children.  The music was from a band that is a regular in Nashville and was EXCELLENT!  I indulged in fried oysters fresh from the area and they were delish!  I don’t care for raw oysters, however, I love fried oysters.  Makes a great meal along with a local brew.  I talked with a few locals and had a great day.

Oyster Cook Off

Oyster Cook Off

Apalachicola River

Apalachicola River

Fishing vessel and nets

Fishing vessel and nets

Our next stop was Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, just east of Destin.  We had the worst weather here; storms and a tornado watch.  We were parked in a protected area so we didn’t get all that much wind. I ventured into Destin one day and went to the Fishing Museum and talked with the docent who was born and raised in the area.  Her family photos were in the museum.

Destin was a small fishing village and now is a large fishing village.  They hold the Fishing Rodeo there once a year.  Fishing is unique in Destin because there is an ocean shelf not very far offshore with a very deep drop in the ocean.  This means that you can fish for deep ocean fish a very short distance off the shore. I didn’t get any photos while in Destin.

The panhandle area of Florida is very different than South Florida and is truly the deep south.  Many more Southern accents and much, much less populated than the rest of Florida.  However, it is catching on with snowbirds and there is a lot of development occurring.  I would love to return  when the weather is better.

Next stop New Orleans!

 

Happy Campers

Happy Campers

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