Prescott, Arizona

We headed south on Highway 17 on Sunday, October 15, 2017, the 22nd day of our fall tour. We transitioned onto scenic Highway 89A through Sedona and on toward Prescott, Arizona. We wanted to stop in Sedona and see what the town had to offer, but there was too much traffic, vehicles and pedestrians, and no place to park.

Welcome to Sedona if You Can Find a Spot to Park

Along the way we saw signs advertising Montezuma Castle National Monument, so we detoured east on Highway 260 to Camp Verde, Arizona, to take a look.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle is one of three national monuments in the Verde Valley that protect and interpret the legacy of the Sinagua culture. Although it is a small monument, it contains well-preserved cliff-dwellings. A paved trail meanders through a forest of Arizona Sycamore and Walnut trees with an undergrowth of creosote bush, velvet mesquite, catclaw mimosa, and soaptree yucca, to name a few.

Montezuma Castle Cliff Dwelling

Along with Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well—a natural oasis—and Tuzigoot—an excavated ancestral village—depicts a farming life in the valley some 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately, we were only able to see Montezuma Castle and had to add the well and Tuzigoot to our list of places to visit during a future trip.

Highway 17 would have taken us to Prescott, but we wanted to go through Jerome, Arizona. Jon remembered steep cliffs without safety railings along the road through Jerome, so I braced for a white-knuckle ride. I’ve seen cities built on hills before, but nothing to the degree of how Jerome is situated. Billboards mentioned RV parking, but with so many vehicles around, it was clear there was no spot for our truck and 30’ fifth wheel. We continued on along the narrow street, navigating hairpin turn after hairpin turn until we stopped at a vista point to calm our nerves.

Whew! This View was Our Reward for Making it Safely Through Jerome.

Point of Rocks RV Park and Watson Lake

As advertised, Point of Rocks RV Park in Prescott, Arizona, was a short walk to Watson Lake where we had our first views of the Granite Dells.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells
Memorial to Lost Hiker?

The lake, one of two, was created by the Chino Valley Irrigation District in the early 1900s. Today the City of Prescott owns the lake and has preserved it and the surrounding area for recreational purposes. Visitors enjoy fishing and kayaking at the lake and birding, hiking, and rock climbing along the 4.6-mile trail that surrounds the water.

Watson Lake
Kayaking on Watson Lake
Go Ducks, Go
Trail Around Watson Lake

Besides the available outdoor activities around Prescott, we found the preservation of historic buildings and the Sharlot Hall Museum of interest.

Historic Downtown Prescott and Whiskey Row

We stopped in at the Tourist Center and grabbed a pamphlet that detailed the location of the buildings built over 100 years ago.

Bandstand Predates the County Courthouse

The Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza is at the center of the historic district which encompasses a 17-acre area that includes 26 contributing buildings in its designation on the National Registry of Historic Places.


Yavapai County Courthouse


Whiskey Row, across from the courthouse, is where a total of 40 saloons once occupied the commercial space when the street was rebuilt after the 1900 fire destroyed four blocks of businesses.

Whiskey Row Across the Street From Courthouse Plaza

The Palace Restaurant and Saloon, originally established in 1877, is considered the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona. The Palace lists Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday as patrons in the late 1870s. The 1880s Brunswick Bar is still in use, having been carried to safety across the street by patrons before the 1900 fire destroyed the building.

Palace Restaurant and Saloon

A gentleman costumed in old western attire greets customers as they enter the bar and escorts them to a dining table. After we enjoyed our meal and an Arizona Sunrise Margarita, we took time to walk around the restaurant to check out the memorabilia and photos that line the walls.

Here’s a sample of other buildings around the square.

Dedicated to Lilly Langtry, Jersey Lilly Saloon has a Balcony that Overlooks Courthouse Plaza Square for a Birdseye View of All the Activity
One of the Galleries
Several Businesses Occupy this Art Deco Building
Prescott National Bank Building on the Corner and the Masonic Temple Next Door

Sharlot Hall Museum

Sharlot Hall Museum Entrance


I never heard of Sharlot Hall before, but I’m glad I met her while visiting the Sharlot Hall Museum. She is truly a woman to admire.

Restored Arizona Territorial Governor’s Mansion Once Housed Sharlot’s Collections

Sharlot moved to the Prescott area with her parents and brother in 1882 at the age of 12. She saw the need to collect and protect Native American and pioneer artifacts early on and planned to develop a museum for her collections.

Bedroom in Old Governor’s Mansion

She lived at her father’s Orchard Ranch until 1927 when she moved her collection of artifacts and documents into the Old Governor’s Mansion. She opened the museum one year later. A journalist, poet, and essayist, she served as the territorial historian from September 1909 to February 1912 and lobbied against a bill that would have combined New Mexico and Arizona territories into one state.

1875 Fremont House Shows Period Construction and Furnishings. Used as Residence for 5th Territorial Governor John Charles Fremont

Working with the Civil Works Administration during the 1930s, the Sharlot Hall Museum building was built. After her death in 1943, the entire complex officially became The Sharlot Hall Museum. In 1981 she became one of the first women elected to the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. Today the museum consists of ten exhibit buildings, four of which have been historically restored.

Constructed in 1934 This Building Houses Many of the Items Collected by Sharlot Hall
Pottery Display
Diorama Exhibit of Native Americans

The museum operates daily from October through May, conducts four annual festivals, and offers living history events. We enjoyed our visit to the museum and highly recommend it for anyone interested in Native American and pioneer history of the old west.


Memorial Rose Garden Honors More Than 200 Territorial Women
Ranch House Built in the 1930s to Represent the Ranch Homes in the Area

Of all the places we have visited over the past two years, Prescott has to be one of my favorites. With plenty of outdoor activities, museums, and dedication to historical preservation, it is a place I would like to stay for more than three or four nights. I’m sure we will return soon.

Coming up next are a few stops in California.

Safe Travels

Flagstaff, Arizona – Part Two

Flagstaff Part Two

We managed to fit into our schedule a couple more Flagstaff sights while in town: the Lowell Observatory, founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, and the Walnut Creek National Monument, where a civilization once lived and farmed 1,000 years ago.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory Visitor Center

Percival Lowell had a theory about life on Mars, mainly, that water flowed through what he thought were canals. Although controversial, Percival was undeterred. Using a 24-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope installed in 1896, Lowell spent fifteen years mapping Mars and creating hand-drawn globes of the planet that showed details of the canals.

Clark Refractor

Later, he was devoted to searching for Planet X, a planet located beyond Neptune having a gravitational impact on Uranus and Neptune. The Pluto Discovery Telescope, currently under renovation, was built in 1928-1929. The year before Lowell’s death in 1916, astronomers at the observatory photographed what would later be identified as Pluto, which was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. The scope is an astrograph with three 13 inch diameter lenses and designed to take photos of the night sky for survey purposes and to detect objects, such as meteors. Today, I understand astronomers are searching for Planet Nine which could be ten times the mass of Earth. Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii and its Subaru Telescope is one such tool being used to find the elusive planet.

John Vickers McAllister Public Observatory

Other discoveries made at the Lowell Observatory include V. M. Slipher’s observations that lead to the theory of an expanding universe and the measurement of motions and properties of stars, some of which were used in the 1960s to create maps of the moon.

While at the observatory, we had an opportunity to view the sun through a solar telescope. After a lifetime of being told not to look directly at the sun, I had a strange feeling as my eye focused on the orange ball for a minute or so. Although the sun was quiet that day with no solar flares evident, it was still an awesome sight to see.

Other buildings of interest include the Rotunda Museum where the public can view the first telescope Percival Lowell received when he was 15 years old, his hand-drawn Mars globes, instruments built by Lowell scientists, and classic scientific books.

Rotunda Museum

The Putnam Collection includes Percival Lowell’s state-of-the-art horseless carriage, a 1911 Stevens-Duryea still in working order.

Putnam Collection Building
1911 Stevens-Duryea

And don’t forget Percival Lowells Mausoleum, a perfect resting place for the astronomer.

Percival Lowell’s Mausoleum

Daytime guided tours, films, and evening programs will please the amateur and professional astronomer alike.

I admire Percival Lowell for embarking on his pursuit of water on Mars and a new planet. His theory of water on Mars may not have panned out, but his persistence led to further searches for objects in the night sky beyond what we can see with our naked eyes.

Walnut Creek National Monument

Walnut Creek National Monument, established in 1915, is accessed a few miles east of Flagstaff off Highway 40.

Walnut Canyon Visitor Center

The Island Trail takes visitors into the canyon 185 vertical feet on 273 stair steps. The reward for this effort is to walk among the 25 cliff dwelling rooms where the Sinagua people made their home among the cliffs 1,000 years ago.

Bottom of Stairs on the Island Trail
On the Island Trail
Inside one of the Cliff Dwellings
Doorways Led Into Adjoining Rooms
Imagine the Work Required to Build the Stonewalls

Views of other structures etched into the surrounding cliffs are also visible. Were these rooms used only for storage, or did the people make their homes in the small structures? I tried to imagine how the people accessed the caches. Did they use ropes? Or maybe they constructed ladders? Either way, it must have been treacherous.

View from Across the Canyon

The self-guided Rim Trail follows the canyon rim to two overlooks, and loops around to a pit house and pueblos set back from the rim. This is the area where the Sinagua grew their crops. Signposts along the way describe the vegetation and other information about the people who lived there.

Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus
Blue Grama Grass

I think I would have felt more comfortable living in a pueblo like the two-room structure below, but I’m sure there were other dangers there as well.

Excavated Pueblo Along the Rim Trail

Across the path stands a pit room where, presumably, the people stored their food and other possessions. Or, perhaps this was someone’s home.

Excavated Pit House

I tried to imagine the sounds and smells of life when the Sinagua lived on this land: the squawk of birds overhead, the echo of children laughing, men joking while they work, meat cooking over an open fire. How would I have managed along the cliffs with a baby swaddled to my body or toddlers underfoot and in constant fear of a child falling into the canyon abyss? Not very well, I guess.

Flagstaff has so much more to offer visitors than what we were able to see during our short stay. When the desert valleys turn hot, head to Flagstaff to beat the heat, go on a hike, or explore the downtown. Or visit in winter to shuush down slopes, cross-country ski, or set out with snowshoes strapped to your feet. Any time of year would be a great time to visit Flagstaff.

Next stop? Prescott, Arizona.

Safe Travels

Spending Time in Flagstaff, Arizona – Part One

U.S. Route 89 heading south of The Gap Trading Post in Cameron, Arizona, was like driving over asphalt moguls. With the fifth wheel chugging behind the truck, we rocked side to side, up and down, and forward and backward as we rolled over the recently paved road. Motion sickness set in for the duration. I can’t imagine why Arizona DOT would intentionally pave over bumps and hills.

The AAA tour book listed a few places to explore in Flagstaff, so as we rolled into town we scanned the signs for places to park the rig. J and H looked promising with its pull-through sites and thick gravel roads. We checked in for three nights on October 12, 2017. We would have gone for four or maybe even five nights, but the park closed on the 15th.

Although they are an RV park with a number of restrictions—no kids, no smoking, no campfires, no motorcycles, no rig washing—we would stay there again for the quiet and the mature trees. We don’t have kids or motorcycles, don’t smoke, can do without campfires, and can wait to wash the rig in another location.

Historic Downtown Flagstaff and Railroad District

Thomas F. McMillan established the first permanent settlement in 1876 when he built a cabin at the base of Mars Hill before the city’s establishment in 1882. By 1886, the surrounding area had grown into the largest city on the railroad line between Albuquerque and the West Coast of the United States. In a 1900s journal entry, Sharlot Hall described the town as a “third-rate mining camp.” A description, I believe, accurate for a lot of towns in the west during that time.


Coconino County Superior Courthouse


Timothy and Michael Riordan moved to the Arizona Territory in 1880 and formed the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company shortly after. They later married women from Cincinnati who were sisters and built a home in 1904 (see Riordan Mansion State Park below). The brothers were instrumental in bringing electricity to the city, building a dam to create a lake and water source, and medical care for not only their employees but visitors and members of the community. They also founded a normal school, or teacher’s college, which eventually became Northern Arizona University (NAU).


Historic Weatherford Hotel


The city prospered through the 1960s but experienced an exodus of businesses during the 1970s and 1980s when the companies either closed down or relocated to the new mall. In 1983, the railroad was added to the historic district and in the 1990s a downtown revitalization attracted new businesses and restaurants to set up shop. The historic district is now a vibrant business and commercial destination.


Independent Book Store



At an elevation of 7,000 feet, Flagstaff sits at the foot of Mount Elden, which is a large lava dome. The mountain offers plenty of trails to hike and explore. Unfortunately, we did not have time to pull on our hiking shoes and wander in the forest.


 With our limited time in Flagstaff, we opted to try out a couple of restaurants instead of spending our time cooking and cleaning dishes.

We loved the casual atmosphere, bright colors, and Day of the Dead décor of MartAnne’s Burrito Palace where we ordered a tostada plate with chips and salsa to eat while we sipped our margaritas. We’ll definitely try other menu items the next time we are in Flagstaff.


MartAnne’s Burrito Palace


Beaver Street Brewery, located in the Halstead Lumberyard Building,  was the place to go for pizza and beer. The menu includes a full bar and beer on tap, along with an assortment of appetizers, fondues, hearty salads, sandwiches, and dinner selections. Diners are sure to find something to suit their palates.


Flagstaff’s First Brewpub Opened in 1994


Riordan Mansion State Historic Park

Located in the Historic Downtown near NAU, is the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park. In 1904, Michael and Timothy Riordan built the Arts and Crafts style duplex for their families. Built by Charles Whittlesey, the 13,000 square foot home is similar in style and architecture to the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Hotel, which was also built by Whittlesey. Ponderosa pine slab siding and volcanic stone arches adorn the exterior of the home. The wood siding was milled at the brother’s Arizona Lumber and Timber  Company.


Riordan Mansion Rear 


Timothy’s family occupied the east wing (on the right), and Michael’s family occupied the west wing (on the left). They shared the common area in between. Docents conduct 60-minute interpretive tours daily (except Christmas day) of the east wing, which is furnished with Edison, Stickley, Ellis, and Steinway family heirlooms.

No photos are allowed in the east wing where the tours are, so I only managed shots of the exterior and the west wing, which primarily housed information on the construction of the house and of the families and included a few roped off areas on the first floor.


Kitchen in West Wing
Fireplace Made From Local Resources 
Stain Glass Window
Entrance to East Wing
Entry Gate to Patio and Middle Portion of the House
Kachina Tile Embedded in Archway. For good luck?


Next up we continue our Flagstaff visit, take a tour of the Lowell Observatory, and learn about the cliff dwellers who made Walnut Canyon there home.

Safe Travels

Kanab, Utah

Kanab, Utah

With no reservations or idea where we would stop, we left Zion on October 9, 2017, taking Highway 89 south from Mt. Carmel Junction. Kanab looked like a nice little city as we drove into town, and it would be a good jumping off point for North Rim Grand Canyon. All we had to do was find a place to set up the fifth wheel.

The first park we tried was booked solid for the month. Back toward town, we passed Hitch-N-Post. Although a sign on the street said they had no RV sites, we stopped and asked anyway. Good luck was shining on us that day. A cancellation had come through a few minutes before.

 Coral Pink Sand Dunes

After situating the rig beside one of the cabins, a short drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park was in order. The Dunes became a state park in 1963 providing off-road enthusiasts a place to play. On the look out for the dunes, we drove through areas where juniper, pinyon pine, and Gambel oak were rooted in a soil of beige to pink sand. At an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, even ponderosa pines are found within the park boundaries.

Pink Coral Dunes

The dunes, formed by wind carrying away eroded Navajo sandstone, are believed to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old. The grains of sand have to be the right size to travel the distance from the mountains or plateaus, not too large and not too small.

We walked out onto the observation boardwalk near the visitor center and watched hikers trekking across the ridge and ATVs roaming around with their whip flags flying. It looked like fun, if not a bit dangerous. I would sure hate to see an ATV crest a dune ridge and encounter one of the hikers.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Footsteps Across Ripples

The park includes a campground with 22 spaces, each with a loop drive to provide plenty of parking for RVs and trailers loaded with off-highway vehicles (OHVs). With the convenience of trails leading from the campsites to the dunes and restrooms and showers for the campers to rinse sand off after a day of riding, this campground has it all for avid off-road adventurers.

North Rim – Grand Canyon

The next day we drove 80 miles south of Kanab to North Rim Grand Canyon National Park. We were lucky to have arrived when we did because the lodge and campground were set to close for the winter in four days.

We drove through beautiful forests and meadows noting the aspen had already lost their leaves.

One of the Meadows on the Drive to North Rim

Although North Rim is advertised as the quieter side of the canyon, a campground-full sign sat outside the check-in kiosk and the visitor center and the lodge was teeming with tourists.

We walked around the visitor center and lodge gawking at the view through the panes of glass. On the patio, visitors gathered around a ranger who gave a talk about the Grand Canyon geology.

Grand Canyon Lodge Patio
Dining Room at the Lodge
Lobby Area

Then we ventured out along Bright Angel Point Trail for some spectacular views.

Are you coming?

I squinted to see if I could make out any of the facilities along the south rim. Even with my 300 mm zoom lens, I could not see anything. I guess the 11.5-mile distance from rim to rim was too far to see such details.

The skies were clear enough, however, to see the San Francisco Peaks popping their heads up across the canyon 64 miles away.

Looking South Toward San Francisco Peaks

Sitting on the ledge with feet dangling seemed to be a favorite pastime for some visitors. I guess they wanted some alone time.

Couple on a Ledge
Canyon Foothills
Southwest View
View Toward the East from Bright Angel Point

It seemed as though I could see the depth of the canyon better from the north vantage point. The views from the South Rim are also spectacular, but I think I like the views from the North rim better. They seemed more dramatic somehow. Perhaps the angle of the light created a sense of depth that I never experienced from the perspective of the South Rim.

The North Rim is a place I would like to return to someday to spend more time, assuming we could manage to obtain a reservation.  I’d like to hike down into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail.

On our way back to Kanab, the Vermillion Cliffs came into view. Another place we will need to return to. There are several photos on the internet of swirling rock formations at the monument I’d love to see in person.

Vermillion Cliffs

Join us next week as we hang out in Flagstaff, Arizona, for a few days.

Safe Travels

Casa Grande, Colorado River and Lake Havasu City

Casa Grande

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, we enjoyed a short 1-1/2 hour drive to Casa Grande RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. When we backed into our assigned site, I was glad to relinquish my backup guide duties to the two men who came out to help Jon situate our fifth wheel. After about a half hour of polite arguments on the best approach to take, I wanted to tell them, “I’ve got this. It’s not that difficult.” But I couldn’t offend the retired truck driver instructor. A few more, “Pull-ups over there, and turn your wheels that way,” and the trailer slid into place.

I think we must have worn ourselves out over the past seven weeks because we took the rest of the day off to wash our clothes, replenish the fridge and pantry, and enjoy a steak and salad dinner prepared by Chef Jon. It felt good to put our feet up and sip our Dark & Stormy’s while the steaks sizzled on the grill.

We had selected Casa Grande Ruins National Monument for our day trip on Wednesday.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The monument preserves an ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and “Great House” that dates back to 1350 C.E. On the website, an artist’s drawing depicts what the compound might have looked like around 1350 C.E. It has the appearance of a mission or fort. The complex was surrounded by walls, adobe buildings lining the inside of walls, and other buildings surrounded the great house. Journal entries of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino who visited in 1694 is the first written account of Casa Grande. Col. Juan Batista de Anza’s expedition in 1775 and Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s military detachment in 1846 also mention the ruins.


Remains of Adobe Building Near Casa Grande


The arrival of the railroad, twenty miles away, and a stagecoach route that ran near Casa Grande brought many visitors to the area. As a result, the historic structure suffered damage from souvenir hunting, graffiti, and vandalism. In 1889, Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar presented a petition before the  U. S. Senate to repair and protect the ruins. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison established the first prehistoric and cultural reserve in the United States by setting aside one square mile surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Casa Grande Ruins a National Monument on August 3, 1918. A steel shelter roof built in 1932 protects the Great House from the elements and visitors are not permitted inside the structure to protect it from further damage.

Casa Grande Protected by Steel Roof

Walking the grounds, I could almost hear children laughing as they chased each other around the complex, see women weaving blankets or creating pottery jugs and bowls, smell smoke from the fires used to cook meat and vegetables, while men yelled and cheered at the ball court outside the compound’s walls.


Depression Below the Horizon is the Ball Court

No one knows why the people abandoned the complex, but archaeological records document their presence at Casa Grande for at least a thousand years.

Store Room? Home?
Wire Mesh Protects Holes From Further Erosion. Note Graffiti on the Smooth Surface Above the Eyes
Beams Stabilize the Structure
View Through the Building to the Other Side

The monument is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For an in-depth understanding of the history and people who occupied the compound, catch a guided tour, which is offered from late November to mid-April. Shaded picnic tables are also available for use across from the visitor’s center. As of the date of this post, the entrance fee is $5.00 for each adult (16 years or older) and children 15 and younger are free. All National Park passes are accepted.

Purple Cactus (Opuntia Macrocentra) Planted in Picnic Area

Colorado River and Lake Havasu City

Lake Havasu City was our next destination to visit with family and friends before turning the truck toward home. Unable to secure a spot for March 2, we stopped at La Paz County Park for the night. We were glad the rain that had drenched the area a few days before had moved on to other locations because our spot looked like it would have been a lake during the downpour.

Jon and I both spent a lot of time along the river in our younger years so we took time out to reminisce and tour old haunts. Our first stop was Fox’s RV Park Resort for dinner. I didn’t remember dollar bills hanging from every available surface of the ceiling, but I did remember boating to the floating bar and restaurant with my friend, drinking our sodas, and playing “Hey Jude” on the jukebox. Jon remembered partying at the bar at night during spring break.

Fox’s RV Resort
Fox’s Floating Bar and Restaurant
Inside the Floating Bar and Restaurant
Dollar Bills Plastered on the Ceiling

Next time we are driving along the river road to or from Lake Havasu, we’ll be sure to stop and grab a bite at Fox’s. The pulled pork sandwich was as good if not better than any I ever ate in North Carolina.

We drove up to Parker Dam, which reminded me of our float trips down the river for two miles to Tom’s Landing where we stayed. I’d jump out of my dad’s boat with an inner tube around my waist along with other kids who stayed at Tom’s. We’d kick back and enjoy the peaceful ride through the red rock canyon. River Lodge Resort took over Tom’s Landing property several years ago.

Parker Dam is Owned and Operated by the Bureau of Reclamation

The City of Lake Havasu offers residents and visitors alike plenty of activities to keep a family busy. Sara Park is an 1100-acre regional park that offers hiking and bike trails, BMX and Motocross, Rodeo grounds, baseball and softball fields, to name a few. The park is also home to Havasu 95 Speedway, which runs a race schedule from October through April. We had fun one night watching the races and cheering on our friend Chris Blackwell in his Orange 99 Car. Congratulations on your win, Chris.


March 4, 2017, Factory Stock Main Event
March 4, 2017, Factory Stock Main Event
Chris Blackwell in the Winners Circle

Next up in our GPS? San Diego.

Safe Travels

Tucson AZ – Part Two

After our trip to the Titan Missile Museum, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. Architect Ignacio Gaona designed the mission under the direction of Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain. Franciscans continue to run the church to serve the O’odham native community, whose ancestors built the mission between 1783 and 1797.


Mission San Xavier del Bac


We joined a tour group in progress when we arrived at the courtyard outside the doors. The docent pointed out specific art pieces and explained their symbolism, but I had trouble hearing at the back of the crowd, so I stuck with taking pictures. I could have stood there for hours finding all the little details in my camera’s viewfinder.

Balcony over the front doors. Note the shell over the window, a symbol of baptism, pilgrimage, St. James the Apostle, St. Augustine, and the Blessed Mary.
One of the many carvings in the facade.
I wondered what was behind the door.
Jesus Christ Monogram
Aesop’s Fable The Lion and The Mouse?

Walk through the carved mesquite doors and enter a church rich with bright colors, paintings, carvings, frescoes, and statues.

From Ceiling to the Floor, Art is All Around.
Ceiling Paintings
One of the Numerous Angels in the Church.
I like the way this resembles fabric and trim to give the appearance of a valance or drape.
Handwriting on the Wall from Daniel 5?
The depiction of the Last Supper. Note the dark figure at the edge of the drape on the right side of the painting.
The Devil in the Details
Flying Angel
One of the Saints?
Prayer Candles are Purchased at the Gift Shop
Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Shades of Brown.
The Docent Said the Dots Are Thumbprints

Back outside are different views of the exterior, bell tower, hill, and plaza.

Exterior Walkway
Side of Church
Bell Tower
Archway to Hill Trail
Hill Trail with Lions Standing Guard
San Xavier Plaza

We’ll have to visit San Xavier again some day to enjoy more of the art and symbolism, meet the local vendors, browse their wares, and grab a bite to eat.

We thought we had allotted enough time to see everything on our list, but we needed at least a couple more days. Fortunately, Rincon Country East accommodated our request for two more nights.

Off we drove to Biosphere 2, the research facility owned by University of Arizona (UA) since July 2011. UA scientists conduct several large-scale projects at the facility originally built to “research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.” One such project is the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a large-scale laboratory used to explore how the evolution of physical and biological processes of the landscape affects “water, carbon, and energy cycling within the landscape, and between the landscape and the atmosphere.” In other words, research on global warming.

Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona

The visitor center alone has plenty to keep a person busy for up to an hour, including a film presentation, exhibits, and multimedia displays. A bookstore and café are also on site. The best part is taking the under-the-glass tour. Led by a docent, the one hour and the 15-minute tour includes the tropical rainforest, desert, and ocean environments; the LEO; as well as the basement “technosphere” and the “amazing lungs.” The tour also includes the scientist’s living quarters, or human habitat.

Tropical Rainforest Environment

Tropical Rainforest in Biosphere 2
Tropical Rainforest in Biosphere 2

Aquaponics project explores how fish, bacteria, and recirculating water is used to grow plants at a faster rate using less water. It looks like something we could have in our backyards.

Aquaponics Project

Desert Environment

Desert Environment at Biosphere 2
Desert Environment at Biosphere 2

Basement technology

The Basement Includes Pipes and Equipment of All Sort that Serve as the Organs and Circulating System of Biosphere 2.

The Amazing Lungs. There are two on site, this one is included in the tour. Air expanded as the heat of the day rose causing the lung to rise. At night, the air contracted which lowered the roof—made of galvanized rubber—to the floor on its metal legs. Although the Biosphere is no longer self-contained, fans are used to simulate the expansion and contraction.

Inside One of the Lungs of Biosphere 2

The LEO Project is enclosed within the three arched glass buildings. Each section contains a bed 30 meters long and 11 meters wide at a 10-degree slope. The beds are filled with 1 meter, or 500 metric tons, of basalt rock. Approximately 1800 sensors and sampling devices are installed to collect data which the scientists analyze.

Exterior Glass Enclosure of the LEO Project. The Domed Shaped Building to the Left is One of the Lungs.
It’s Difficult to See From This Angle, but the Dark Area Above the Green Frame is the bed of basalt rock.

Human Habitat

Human Habitat Contains a Kitchen, Living Area, and Apartments that the Scientists Used During their Stay.

For our last day in Tucson, we packed a lunch, and headed to Tucson Mountain County Park and found a great place to have a picnic in the Ironwood Picnic area. After a quiet meal among the mesquite, palo verde, and teddy bear cholla we drove to Old Tucson Studios. Expecting a cheesy sort of place that would extract money from our pockets, we were surprised to find the old movie and television sets realistic and the entertainment professional and amusing.


Teddy Bear Cholla


Old Tucson Studio Souvenir Shop

The music, singing, and clapping attracted us toward the Grand Palace Saloon. Jon was glad we were standing at the back of the bar when the dancers came out and selected men to come up on stage, dressed in can-can outfits, of course. Don’t look too long at the out of focus print, you’ll get dizzy.

Grand Palace Saloon

We wandered over to the Mission next and laughed at the actors who insulted the audience members as they walked into the arena and took their seats. Then we enjoyed a slapstick routine involving a gun fight, explosions, and falls from high places.

Watch Stunt Shows at the Mission Arena
Stunt Show Actors
Uh Oh. Now, What Do I Do?
I’m Having a Really Bad Day.

Next, we strolled through the town to see the sets where filming of over 400 movies and television productions took place since the Audie Murphy days.

Peek Inside the Hotel Del Toro
The Marshal’s Office
The School House Exterior
Bilingual School Room
Phoebe’s Has Good Fudge For Sale
Chinese Alley
Saloon and Card Room

We felt we got our money’s worth at $18.95 a head. We took Gates Pass Road back to town and stopped at the overlook. As I stood on the hill the Tucson Valley and Rincon Mountains came into view through the V of the rock formations. It was then that I realized why I felt at home in Tucson. It’s the mountains.

Gates Pass Overlook. Through the V on the Left is Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains in the Distance.

The San Bernardino Mountains towered over the valley where Jon and I grew up, and hills surround the valley where we live now. There’s something comforting about hills and mountains standing tall and strong ready to protect the inhabitants that live in the shadows.

Next stop, Casa Grande.

Safe Travels.

Tucson AZ – Part I

Continuing westward, we selected Tucson AZ for one of our longer stays to allow time for truck maintenance. We settled in at Rincon Country East RV Park on February 22, 2017. Rincon East was the sixth park we called before procuring a reservation. Although many of the parks advertise numerous sites, park models or long-term visitors fill the majority of the spots leaving only a small percentage available for travelers. Rincon East has 460 sites but only 55 available for short-term stays. We learned later that our trouble getting reservations was also complicated by Rodeo week. Rodeo week is such a big deal that the schools are closed Thursday and Friday to allow the students to participate in the non-motorized parade and other rodeo-related activities.

There is so much to see in and around Tucson we had trouble deciding where to go and what to see. We chose Saguaro National Park East, or Rincon Mountain District, to explore first since it was close to our home base. This old guy looks like he has had a long hard life.

I Need a Hug.

On March 1, 1933, President Hoover established Saguaro National Monument, but congress did not designate the property as a national park until 1994. During the sixty years as a monument the cactus dwindled in numbers due to poachers who stole the stately giants, cattle that trampled the young saguaros, and unusual freezing temperatures caused the plants to die. In the meantime, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive, a visitor center opened in 1950, and scientific research of the saguaro life cycle began.

The 8-mile paved Loop Drive leads visitors to several trailheads, scenic vistas, pullouts, and picnic areas. At the pullouts, kiosks provide information about the park, the cactus, and the non-human creatures that live or visit each year. One sign said Tucson was known as the lightning capital of the world. A quick fact check revealed that Texas took the prize for the number of flashes (2.8 million) during 2014 and Florida ranked number one for the average number of flashes per square mile (21.0) from 2005 through 2014 according to Vaisala Inc. on the NOAA.Gov website. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum attributes Tucson’s unique combination of elevation and dry atmosphere as the reason lightning in Tucson is more visible. To experience Tucson’s lightning requires a visit during monsoon season between July and September.

Rooftops sparsely placed among the saguaros, Palo Verde, and mesquite, are barely visible looking west from Loop Drive.

View from Loop Drive Looking West

The saguaros are returning, protected by mesquite and Palo Verde nurse trees. Consider that the saguaros do not generate arms until they are 95 – 100 years old.

A Family of Saguaros Nursed by Mesquite and Palo Verde Trees

Other sightings along the loop drive.

Barrell Cactus
Phainopepla Sitting in A Tree. How Nice of Him to Pose for Me.
Chain Fruit Cholla
Staghorn Cholla
Javelina Rocks
Javelina Rocks

We headed downtown one afternoon to tour the Tucson Museum of Art and J. Knox Corbett House. Unfortunately, the museum closed early for an event so we only had about ten minutes to walk through the Corbett house, so no time to take photos or enjoy the art in the museum.

J. Knox Corbett House
Historic Neoclassic/Classical Revival Architecture

Old Town Artisans, housed on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson, a fort built by the Spanish in 1775, was only a few blocks from the museum. There we wandered through the galleries and shops gawking at the unique gifts, jewelry, paintings, pottery, and other items for sale.

We had received a recommendation to try El Charro for a meal. Four o’clock was a little early to eat dinner, but when the hostess said, “Now would be a good time to grab a seat,” we heeded her advice. Good thing we did. By the time we finished our meal, diners stood outside wrapped in their jackets waiting for a table. We both enjoyed the salmon taquitos with guacamole and the chicken mole enchiladas were some of the best I had ever eaten.

Mural in El Charro Restaurant

The Titan Missile Museum was next on our list. As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I crouched under my desk at school along with my classmates just as the teacher instructed us. At the time, I thought the exercise would keep me safe. Little did I know we all would have been burnt to a crisp had there really been a nuclear war. The song, “Russians” by Sting gave me hope that the Russians would not engage their nuclear weapons because they really did love their children.

The museum includes historical photos and tells the story of the 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States, each operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The missiles could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6300 miles away in less than thirty minutes. The one-hour guided tour includes the underground missile complex, the launch control center, and the missile silo. I’m so glad the little girl hiding under the desk never had to endure the tragedies of a nuclear war and pray no one will ever experience the destructive power of these types of missiles.

Titan Missile Visitor Center
Fencing and Gate for Titan Missile Complex
The Elevator to the Underground Facility is on the Left. The Stair Hatch is on the Right.
Looking Up through Stairs That Lead Underground
Giant Shock Absorber for Underground Facility
Launch Control Center
Missile and Silo From Underground
Missile and Silo from Above Ground
View of Silo and Surrounding Area
Listening Devices for Alerting Launch Control of Intruders
Various Antennas
Liquid Fuel Tank Used Prior to Solid Rocket Fuel


Rocket Engine Used During Launch


Military Police Jeep Used on Site

Next up is Tucson Part Two, which will include Biosphere 2, Mission San Xavier del Bac and Old Tucson Studio.

Safe Travels.