Monthly Archives: December 2013

December 20, 2013 Yuma, Arizona

We love Arizona!  From Tucson to Casa Grande, and now a final stop in Yuma, our stay in Yuma has been wonderful! During the short drive from Casa Grande to Yuma, we continued to enjoy the interesting rock formations and views. 01-IMG_20131220_132032 02-IMG_20131221_000122  Yuma is in an area near the borders of Arizona, California and Mexico. Guinness  Book of World Records describes Yuma as “the sunniest place on earth” with an average of 339 days of sunshine and 3.01 inches of rain a year.  Years ago Yuma was a popular place for gold rushers to cross the Colorado River because of the Yuma Crossing.  Here there are two large granite outcroppings which squeezed the river into a narrow channel, allowing for a safer and easier crossing of the river.  Over the years the Hoover Dam, as well as other dams have altered the flow of the Colorado River and therefore the water supply to the area.  For example the Yuma Territorial Prison was once surrounded by water on three sides but today that area is dry desert.  Other dams such as the Laguna Dam diverts water for crops into the Yuma area.  The Colorado River is one of the most controlled and litigated rivers in the world because it is shared by 7 western states and Mexico.  It serves about 25 million people and 90% of its water has been directed by the time it gets to Yuma, and it disappears as it enters Mexico.  Yuma is home to the world’s largest reverse osmosis desalting plants which was completed in 1992 by the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure that the U.S. could meet their treaty obligations to deliver water to Mexico.  The plant can produce 72.4 million of gallons of desalted water per day.  The plant never has run at full capacity because it is expensive to operate and Mexico has enough water from normal river flow without the plant.  Throughout Yuma, seemingly at every street corner, there are small buildings offering desalted water for sale.

The Yuma Proving Ground, formerly Camp Laguna, trains troops, and tests weapons and systems, as well as bridges on the Colorado River, before battle.  It is located on 1,300 square miles of desert terrain.  Also nearby is a Marine Crops Air Station.  Yuma’s economy is made up of agriculture, the military, and tourism.

Speaking of agriculture, today farming is a $3 billion industry in Yuma.    It is known as the winter lettuce capital of the world.  Chances are very good that if you eat salad anywhere in the U.S. during the winter, it came from Yuma.  This helps make Arizona second in the U.S. in the production of all kinds of lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli.  05-IMG_20131227_144802 At the peak of the season, 2,000,000 pounds of lettuce is processed at EACH of the NINE salad plants DAILY!  Every day we saw busloads of migrant workers out in the fields working and fields of lettuce and other greens was a common sight.  They flood the fields for irrigation and also have irrigation equipment actively watering the fields.  04-IMG_20131229_004101

While in Yuma we celebrated Christmas.  The RV resort where we were staying had a lovely Christmas Eve service which included placing luminaries along all the streets in the resort.  It made for a beautiful Christmas Eve atmosphere. 03-IMG_20131224_182802 On Christmas Day the resort provided a delicious Christmas dinner of prime rib and ham.  We were able to meet and talk with many snowbirds, and we are finding that many of then come down from Canada, Washington state, and Oregon.  We have found people to be friendly here and we were inviting to Happy Hours and enjoyed talking with our neighbors.

The Yuma Territorial Historical Park opened in 1876, with the first prisoners building their own cells.  10-IMG_20140101_200451The prison was open for 33 years and housed 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women.  It was truly a hell hole, especially in the summer months with unbearable heat.  It was surrounded on 3 sides by water and the other side by desert and quicksand.  As mentioned earlier, today there is no longer water there, just dry desert. 09-IMG_20140101_200035
There were few escapes.   14-IMG_20131229_004419One area, called The Dark Cell, was a dark cave-like area where prisoners who didn’t follow the rules were placed for




different lengths of time, depending on the severity of the misbehavior.  It was such an unpleasant place that few prisoners were repeat

13-IMG_20131228_15171012-IMG_20131229_004327offenders and some were model prisoners after the Dark Cell experience.

11-IMG_20131228_151135 Next door to the museum is a visitors center and museum. Nearby on the grounds was a small cemetery where they buried those who died there. 16-IMG_20131229_004640 Bill and I found visiting the prison a sad and somewhat discomforting experience.  The Yuma Territorial Prison was home to the Yuma High School from 1910 to 1912 after a fire burned down their school.  During a football which Yuma won in the final moments of the game, one of the announcers said it was criminal the way the team stole the game.  At first the townspeople were insulted, but then decided to go with area history and they became known as the Yuma Criminals.  08-IMG_20140101_195702

Close to the Yuma Territorial Prison Historical Park was the Ocean to Ocean Bridge.  This bridge opened in 1915 and was the first and only vehicular traffic bridge over the lower Colorado River for 1,200 miles.  Until then, people had to wait for a ferry to cross the river and it was the final link from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Later a railroad bridge was added.06-IMG_20140101_195046

We had heard so much about Quartzsite, so we drove the 75 miles to check it out.  It normally has a population of 3,700. but during the months of January to March, the population swells to over one million as the area is inundated with RVers who mostly boondock in the desert on Bureau of Land Management property for no or little cost.  Many vendors come to the area for those months and set up huge tents where you can buy jewelry and gems, antiques, arts and crafts, and anything and everything an RV owner could possibly need or wish for.  We drove around and looked at some of the potential camping areas and checked out some of the vendors.  Since it was late December, the area was still relatively quiet with few RVs and vendors.  Calm before the storm for sure.  We still can’t decide whether the experience in January would be for us.  Before leaving Quartzsite we did stumble upon a historic part of the area while geocaching.  Once again, finding a geocache caused us to find an area we not normally have found.  The Hi Jolly Memorial is a memorial to Ali Hadji.  In 1856 thirty-three camel were brought from Syria with Ali Hadji as their caretaker.  They were brought to the U.S. aboard a federal supply ship as an experiment to be used for transportation in the desert.  The idea was originally that of Jefferson Davis, but he was soon preoccupied by the Civil War and lost interest in the project.  Later an additional 41 camels were brought over with the idea of using them to build a wagon road from Arizona to California.  The camels were found to be difficult to manage and it is said that the sight of them caused horses and cattle to stampede.  Some were sold to circuses and some were left in the desert to fend for themselves.  Because of a communication problem, Ali Hadji became known as Hi Jolly.  He remained in the area near his camels and worked as an army scout and miner.  After 30 years of service to the U.S. government, he died at the age of 64 in Quartzsite.  The Arizona Highway Department constructed the pyramid like  memorial from chucks of ore minerals in the area, with a metal silhouette of a camel on top in his memory.  It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  17-IMG_20140101_200841

We also heard a lot from fellow RVers about the small Mexican town of Los Algodones.  We first started hearing about it when we were in Casa Grande and people continued to talk about it in Yuma.  The town is very dependent on snowbirds and is therefore seen as a safe and friendly place to visit.  We decided to give it a try.  Los Algodones is 7 miles west of Yuma.  It is known for having more doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacies within a 4 block area than any other similar 4 block area in the world.  It is very common for Americans to go across the border for dental work, to get eyeglasses, 8-IMG_20140101_194532 and their supply of pharmacy drugs at a fourth to a third of the prices they would pay in the U.S. 7-IMG_20140101_194250 Many of the doctors and dentists are trained in the U.S. and give similar care to what you would receive in the U.S.  Next to the border entry is a large casino on an Indian reservation where you can safely park your car for the day for $6.00.  We parked and walked across the border.  We were a little surprised that no one in Mexico was at the border to check us.  It was amazing to see all the stores advertising dental and optical care.  There were many vendors offering you just about anything you could want to buy. 6-IMG_20131230_135527 We had been warned to haggle and never pay full price, and we bought each of us a jacket and Bill a hat and belt for great prices.  Bill wanted some prescription reading glasses so we went to an optical business recommended to us by fellow RVers.  For $29 he received an eye exam and prescription glasses which were ready in 2 hours.  They have single vision, bifocals and progressive lenses available for low prices.  Bill likes his new glasses and sees fine with them.  We had a nice Mexican lunch where a margarita is included in the price of the entree, 1-20131230_131013~2 and the entree price is cheaper than you would pay in the U.S.  later in the day before heading back across the border we decided to have another margarita and relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the town. 4-IMG_20131230_135754 5-IMG_20131230_211616 3-IMG_20131230_134148 2-IMG_20131230_134134 The two margaritas were the price of what you would pay for one here, and we found margaritas there much stronger than those made in the U.S.  We struck up a conversation with two couples sitting near us.  They were snowbirds here for the winter from Canada.  After great margaritas and conversation, we got in line to re-enter the U.S.  We were told this could take minutes or hours depending on the day and time of day.  We only had about a 15 minute wait and then showed our passports to the custom agent.  She did ask us what was in our packages and why we had visited Mexico, but that was it.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope; Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi; Flight to Phoenix, and Space Balls were all filmed in and around Yuma.

As I mentioned earlier, we have loved our time in Arizona.  It can be a bit dusty from all the tilling and plowing of fields and lack of rain.  It has seemed strange to see dirt, sand and cacti instead of grass and trees.  But we agreed it is someplace we definitely want to come back to again and probably stay longer.

Campground:  Araby Acres RV Resort

December 13, 2013 Casa Grande, Arizona

We reluctantly left our desert campground in Tucson Mountain Park and headed west.  We saw more farmland, mainly corn and cotton as we traveled toward Casa Grande.  We arrived at our new home, an RV resort, far different from our previous desert home.  This resort is now filled with snowbirds, many from Canada who have come down for 6 months.  There are many activities to chose from to keep everyone busy, and we have enjoyed getting to know some of them by attending a church service and playing Mexican Train dominoes two evenings.  We realized that if we ever decide to winter in one place for several months, these kinds of resorts can keep us very busy and active.  Sunday night they had a Christmas parade with a float 1-P1030540 3-P1030547 2-P1030541and

many people 

4-IMG_20131217_173917decorated their golf carts and had them in the parade.  The Christmas spirit was contagious and we decorated our rig too!  

Monday we drove to Casa Grande Ruins, from which the city got its name.  The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument 01-20131216_135535 02-20131216_140131has the remains of a prehistoric Hohokam farming village where the Hohokam people lived from 1300-1400 AD.  The main building called Casa Grande, was four stories high, 60 feet long, contains nearly 3,000 tons of caliche mud, and is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert.  06-IMG_20131216_145937 05-IMG_20131217_203551 04-20131216_142703 03-20131216_142037 08-IMG_20131217_203823 07-IMG_20131217_203451 09-20131216_143046


model of the Casa Grande

model of the Casa Grande

The Hohokam people are referred to as the “First Masters of the American Desert”.  Shortly after the time of Christ, these people became the first farmers of the American Southwest.  They were influenced by the great Mexican civilizations to the south and using stone age tools and the strength of their backs, they dug hundreds of miles of canals across the desert.  One interesting thing was that the holes in the upper walls aligns with the sun and moon, indicating that the people would study the positions of celestial objects and use that for planting, harvesting and celebrations.   At one time the village was surrounded by a 7 foot wall.  13-IMG_20131216_143025 12-IMG_20131216_142341 11-IMG_20131216_142136Time, weather, and vandalism has harmed the structure and the park service put a roof over the big structure to try to prevent the destruction from weather.  No one knows what happened to the Hohokam people, but among various theories are that floods destroyed the canals they built for water and then a drought forced them to move.

A Jesuit missionary discovered the ruins in 1694 and between then and 1889, visitors vandalized the area. In 1889 Congress took action to protect the ruins and wooden beams and steel rods were put in to reinforce the walls.  In 1892 it was designated as a natural preserve and in 1932 the roof was added to protect the structure from weather.

On one of our days in Casa Grande we drove thirty minutes to Chandler, Arizona to ride on the Paseo bike trail, a wonderful paved trail that runs along a golf course and through neighborhoods.  It was a great day for biking! 1-P1030554 2-P10305563-P1030553

We enjoyed our time in Casa Grande, and like Tucson, think it would be a nice place to return to someday.



December 12, 2013 Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Right down the road from our campsite at Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park 01-P1030448 02-P1030496was the renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  We were told by many people we met along the way that we had to go to this museum.  It is listed as the top attraction in the Tucson area, one of the top 10 museums in the world, and one of the top 10 U.S. Public Gardens.  03-20131212_150204 04-P1030514

We got an early start for what we thought would be a three hour visit.  Six hours later we headed back home.  This is a phenomenal museum, though I think a more exact name would be the Arizona-Sonora Desert Zoo because the content is outdoors and alive.  It showcases the Sonoran Desert which is the lushest desert on earth.  Located in the middle of the desert, it is on 21 acres with 2 miles of walking paths, and has 230 animal species, 1200 types of plants with 56,000 individual species.  It is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive regional mineral collections.  The museum has a zoo, botanical garden,

Agave plant which is used to make tequila

Agave plant which is used to make tequila

and art gallery, a natural history museum, an aquarium, and an aviary. 18-P1030509





Our favorite part of the museum was the Raptor Free Flight where they released birds in the desert and they were trained to fly to trainers, usually close enough over our heads that we could feel the brush of air from their wings.  One of them came close enough to brush the top of Bill’s hat.  They had a morning and afternoon show, and we were so impressed with the morning show that we made a point to return for the afternoon performance since they were featuring different birds at each show. 24-P1030473 25-P1030476 26-P1030482 27-P1030493 28-P1030495


30-P1030490 31-P1030527

32-P1030451Harris Hawk


33-P10305363 of 5 Harris Hawks flying as a family during the program


We loved walking in the desert on a warm day and seeing all the beautiful animals and plants.

07-P1030454Mountain lion


06-P1030452Mountain lion


09-P1030459Mexican wolf….today fewer than 50 Mexican wolves remain in the wild


10-20131212_142611Sleeping javelinas


17-P1030506Desert Bighorn Sheep




22-P1030520Today some are found in the wild of Arizona…they are grassland squirrels…we noticed his feet are like fingers


23-P1030519Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs..once lived on approximately 1 million acres in Arizona but were gone by 1930’s


I would like to copy the mission statement of the museum because I feel this best describes our feelings about our 3 days camping in the desert:  “The mission of the Sonora-Desert Museum is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.”

This visit ended our stay in the desert and in the Tucson area.  We truly loved Tucson and vowed to return here again someday.

December 10, 2013 Tucson Mountain Park

We arrived at Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park and immediately fell in love with this campground. 3-P1030373 14-P10304112-P1030371 The campground was not as deserted as we expected, but we still had our pick of campsites.  After choosing one with a beautiful view of the mountains and saguaros, we quickly set up and headed to the nearby Saguaro National Park Visitors Center.  We watched a movie there on the plants and animals of the desert.  We have watched movies at many visitors centers in the past, but this one had an amazing ending.  After enthralling us with the sights and sounds of the 1-P1030364desert, they ended the movie by having the screen raise and the huge drapes open to show a breathtaking view of the desert outside.  it was a very dramatic way to end of movie.  I wish I had the words to express the affect it left on us.  Above all else, it left us with an appreciation for how we as visitors to to the desert, need to respect and care for such an amazing resource entrusted to us.  After the movie and touring the rest of the visitors center we attended a talk on desert life given by one of the park volunteers.  We ended the day by taking the scenic Bajada Loop Drive.  That evening the Space Station was visible overhead and we heard coyotes howling.

Our second day in the desert park we wanted to do some hiking and additional scenic driving.  We hiked the Desert Discovery Trail where we learned more about desert plant and animal life.  We then hiked to the top of Signal Hill to see some petroglyphs which were created by the prehistoric Hohokam people more than a thousand years ago.  I kept telling myself the rattlesnakes had hibernated for the winter!  02-P1030386 04-P1030398
05-P103040006-P1030401 07-P1030403 13-P1030410



After lunch at a picnic table made by the Civilian Corps men many years ago, we went back to the Visitors Center for a talk about the history and life of the Hohokam people.

We spent the rest of the afternoon grabbing a geocache in the desert and then rode along Picture Rocks Road which included narrow Gates Pass and some amazing scenery. 15-P1030419 3-P1030373 4-P1030376 5-P1030377 6-P1030378 When we arrived home we enjoyed sitting outside watching the sunset and listening to the coyotes.  They were especially vocal tonight!  16-P1030444 17-P1030445

December 6, 2013 Tucson, Arizona

We loved Tucson!  The beautiful mountains in the distance and the tall saguaros were fascinating sights as we pulled into the Mission View RV Resort in Tucson 1-P1030347  which is located on an Indian reservation.  2-P1030350

The weather was a little chillier than we had hoped for, but their was the promise of warmer days to come.

We rode downtown and found some interesting photo opportunities.  3-IMG_20131207_150357

Our last day in Tucson we went to the beautiful Mission San Xavier, a short drive from our campground.  1-P1030352 2-P1030360  Construction of the mission began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.  6-P1030358 4-P1030356 7-P1030359 5-P1030357  At that time Arizona was part of New Spain and became part of Mexico in 1821 following Mexican independence.  The mission became part of the United States in 1854 and became a National Landmark in 1963. It is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona and is still an active church with a K-8 mission school with an enrollment of 135.   3-P1030353

Bill found a county park nearby in the desert –  Tucson Mountain Park which will give us an opportunity to experience camping in the desert, so we decided to leave Mission View and head to the desert.

December 6, 2013 Tombstone, Arizona

After staying an extra day in Deming, New Mexico due to high wind advisories against driving on the interstate with large vehicles, we headed to Benson, Arizona for a one night stay on our way to Tucson. 1-P1030307 2-P1030323 We stayed at an Escapees Co-op park which was great for a one night stop.  It went down to 24 degrees that night and we awoke the next morning to a car covered with a heavy frost.  Bill had a package scheduled to arrive by UPS at the campground the day before, but for some unknown reason the UPS driver could not find the address, so we drove to the UPS store in Sierra Vista to pick up the package.

On the way back from UPS we decided to take another route back to the campground to pick up the RV.  We wanted to see as much of the area as possible, and we were so glad we did because this route took us right through Tombstone, Arizona which we had thought about visiting.

2-P1030338 1-P1030343  On this cold morning not many people were out, but we did see a stagecoach 3-P1030336 4-P1030337and got feel for the old west feel of the town.  If you enjoy seeing what the old west looked like and watching staged gunfights, this is the place to go.  We stopped by Boothill Graveyard and peeked through the fence at the tombstones.5-P1030342



We didn’t have a lot of time to explore since we had to get back to check out by 11:00, but we were glad we had a chance to see what Tombstone, Arizona was all about.  If we are ever in the area again, it would be nice to spend a day strolling down the street like Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty did all those years ago!

We went through yet another border patrol stop, our third since leaving Texas.  They are always very pleasant and we were quickly on our way back to the campground.

December 2, 2013 Deming, New Mexico

We crossed the border of Texas into New Mexico and stopped at the welcome center to pick up some tourist information and grab a quick geocache….our first in the desert!  1-P1030231 Not long after crossing the state line into New Mexico we had our first border patrol stop on Interstate 10 which was quick since they just waved us through. We stayed at an Escapees park called Dream Catcher RV Park.  One thing we noticed so far about RV parks in west Texas and New Mexico is it is very much like camping in a parking lot…wide open spaces with no trees or grass, just hookups for your RV.  This is something that has taken some getting used to! The next day we decided to drive the two and a half hour drive to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings in Gila National Forest.  06-P1030265The signs promised us a scenic byway, and we were not disappointed! 02-P1030248  Not long after leaving the Deming city limits we encountered another border patrol stop.  This time they made us stop, and they looked through the window of our car, asked if we were both US citizens, and then wished us a nice day and we proceeded on our way.    We loved seeing windmills against the mountains.  01-P1030245The views were amazing as we climbed over 8,200 feet along narrow roads with sharp curves and hairpin turns.  03-P1030246 05-P1030263    10-P1030275 08-P1030271 09-P1030272 10-P1030275       We were more than a little surprised to see snow on the mountaintops and along the side of the road!   We arrived at the trailhead to the cliff dwellings.  The ranger told us they had recently had 4 inches of snow, and while the trail was clear, there were some icy patches along the trail, so we decided to use our trekking poles.  We purchased the trekking poles last fall to help with steep and uneven terrain, and we have certainly enjoyed using them and have found them to be very helpful.  We really recommend them to anyone who does much walking or hiking.  We did not find the trail particularly difficult going up, but coming down was another story since that side of the trail does not get much sun and the trail was very icy in some places. 25-P1030303 Certainly not what we expected to encounter when we left home that morning, but the snow and ice all added to the excitement of the day.  It had been some time since we had last seen snow! The cliff dwellings were amazing and definitely worth the drive over and back.  We were told by one of the park rangers that this is the only cliff dwellings in the country that actually allow you to go inside the dwellings and not just view them from a distance.  Archeologists believe the Mogollon people lived in the dwellings from the late 1270’s to 1300 AD. 13-P1030282 They think they lived here for such a short time because a severe drought affected their ability to farm and they moved on.  The cliff dwellings have approximately 40 rooms built inside several natural caves in the canyon.  We did see some pictographs but many have faded over time. 11-P1030279 12-P1030280 14-P1030284 After the Mogollon left, it appears no one lived in the region for over 100 years until the Apaches migrated there around 1500 AD.  Geronimo was born near the Gila River in the early 1820’s.  26-P1030306  In 1878 a prospector and miner H. B. Ailman discovered the cliff dwellings.  By 1884 when archeologist Adolph Bandelier arrived, looters had stolen many of the artifacts and burned the roofs of some of the cave dwellings.  In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the area a national monument in an effort to prevent further destruction.         16-P1030286 17-P1030289 18-P1030290 19-P1030291 20-P1030292 22-P1030293 23-P1030294 21-P1030296 24-P1030298 15-P1030300                                                                                         We had planned on leaving Deming the next day, but Tuesday night we received a high wind advisory on our phones for difficult driving conditions along Interstate 10 for high profile vehicles like RVs.  Since we had seen many signs throughout west Texas and New Mexico along the interstate warning of cross winds and low to zero visibility due to blowing sand, we decided to heed the warning and stay in Deming another day.