Thursday, December 30, 2010

Exploring SE Arizona

Willcox, AZ
I wanted to visit this little town because the town kept coming up on the internet when I searched for farms and produce stands in Arizona.  It is right off Highway 10 so I stopped by as I exited New Mexico.  I was there in the wrong season to find fresh produce or stands but it does claim to be the home of Rex Allen. Rex was a western singer of the 1940’s and ‘50s who also became a cowboy movie star.  He played the Red Rider on the radio (yes, I remember).  Otherwise the town is a mix of buildings and closed shops.  I did find the “Big Texas BBQ” housed in an authentic red railroad dining car.  Good pork sandwich and French fries double dipped in beer batter. 
Onward to the west.  Next stop was a left turn onto Benson and to the big caves.
High Desert-Kartchner Caverns State Park
This evening, Monday, December 27, I’m at Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson, Arizona.  I was told by friend Sharon to see these caves since they are the newly discovered in 1974.  I had already seen Carlsbad Caves in New Mexico as a child. 
The state park is in the desert high country and has a lovely large area for RV’s that include electricity and water, free showers and several rest rooms for $25 per night.  It is a well manicured area with paved driveways and pads.  I’m writing this from the picnic table and near dusk.
The modern visitor's center features large lit pictures of the inside of the cave, films, a café and gift shop.  There is a lovely cactus garden surrounding the building.
I was interested in the rocks and bought a book on Arizona geology. The tours were filled up for the day but start again early the next morning.  Perfect timing. 
These caves were amazing.  Discovered by two young cavers, they kept it a secret for many years while working with the family who owned the property.  They eventually got funding and the state parks department spent millions of dollars to develop it.  The hour and a half tour costs $22 which includes an electric tram ride to the entrance.  At the entrance to the otherwise normal looking small hillside, there are two chambers to protect the limestone “living cave” from outside influences.  First was the air, the second was a misting room to contain even the lint on visitor’s clothes.  It was then about a half-mile walk with a guide along cement paths with metal railings.  There are necessary to keep your balance as you look at the top of the cave…actually a series of caves.  Water percolates from the upper surface and calcite formations continue to grow as stalagmites reaching up from the ground and stalactites dripping down like icicles. The main feature is a column that is lit with music and changing lights.  I would recommend this tour to anyone.  The tour guide was excellent.  It is very well done and worth the price.
On to Bisbee, Arizona
I’d had mixed reviews from friends who had been here but their brochure was so compelling that I just had to see it.  It is a town near the furthest southeast corner of the state and near the Mexico border.  As I got within about 10 miles, I entered some serious mountains.  VANessa was struggling to the nearly 5,000 mile elevation level. 
This is the craziest place I’ve ever seen. It’s rather like an illustration from a Dr. Seuss book.  In a confluence of a variety of steep mountains and deep gullies is this town clinging to the hillsides and centered in a narrow, curving, and rolling base. There is not even a flat place between the mountains, let alone a valley.  I parked and started walking until I found the “Savory Café” (on several levels of the slope) and sat at one of the two counter seats.  This is a combobbled combination of any type of building materials available.  I ordered a sandwich.  Another woman sat down beside me and looked to me like a local…so I asked her.  She said she had moved here 30 years ago from California, had run a gallery and was now retiring.  She said this was originally a copper mining town that closed down.  The hippies had moved in to abandoned buildings and because they were so self-sufficient they could live there without much from the outside.  Then, she said, the gays and artists moved in because of the cheap housing and they improved the housing, restaurants, old hotels and downtown shops.  The rich visited and bought art but didn’t seem to stay because there is nothing else to do such as skiing or water sports.   I thanked her for the information and started to walk the narrow, winding sidewalk to downtown. 
This is still a hippy town.  Galleries did not have the finer art…in fact it was rather crude for my taste.  There were a lot of dusty antique shops with overpriced goods…mainly western and cowboy items…plus an old bookstore. Many of the "old west" look has been preserved in the hotels and other buildings.  I did find a book-on-tape. The dry goods store had a creaky wooden floor along with lots of rodeo shirts and a big array of cowboy hats and boots.  I noticed a machine in the corner that I’d not seen since childhood.  It was an X-ray machine formerly used in shoe stores.  Children put on the new shoes and put their feet into it.  The salesman, parent, and child all had viewing pieces to look and see thechild’s foot  bones and determine if the shoes fit well.  This type machine was in every shoe store but suddenly they were removed.  As an adult I understand they figured out that X-rays were not so good for people and they stopped doing that.  The clerk said that this machine was not functional…only a discussion item.   Several of us customers did have a lively talk about our youth…and how amazing it was to wiggle your toes to see your bones moving.  
Pawn Shops and Thrift Shopping
Because there were reports of wind, cold, and snow forecast, I called Aunt Fran in Scottsdale to say I’d try to make it to her house before the storm.  I arrived about 7pm and settled in for the night.   The next day Fran talked about advertisements on TV regarding pawn shops and she’d never been to one.  We headed out after breakfast to the part of town that is supposed to have a lot of them.  We found the first one and ended up each buying a bit of jewelry but otherwise it is mostly “guy stuff” or electronics that we didn’t need.  On the way down the street she spotted a thrift store and said she’d always wanted to stop but never had.  It was a Value Village (VV’s to those of us bargain hunters).  I told her it was overpriced and I no longer went to the ones at home…but I’d go with her.  Well, it’s a very different store than I’m used to.  Clean, carpeted, wide aisles, and  low prices.  We found cartloads of Chico and other designer brand items in nearly new condition for amazing prices.  I asked about any other stores and they sent us down the road where we found an even bigger store.  I found Ralph Lauren shirts and sweaters and more Chico’s….like new.  As we left, the storm hit with pouring down rain and streets flooded.  It continued the rest of the day and evening  and even during the night.  My van was gently swayed by the wind as I slept.  In the morning all the water was gone and the sun was out.  Fran said this length of the rainstorm was unusually long and she could remember only a few other times it has happened.  To me it felt like home for a short while.  
By Thursday it had turned cold and I saw a small flurry of snow in the afternoon.  The local news showed some Phoenix areas with light covering and lots of snow in the surrounding mountains.  We covered Fran's plants with sheets to protect them from the forecasted night frost, then settled in to a great dinner of BBQ ribs and baked potatoes.  
I'm not sure when I'll be moving on.  I'm keeping an eye on the weather reports both west and northwest. 


BJ said...

I just smiled and giggled all through this blog today Mary Beth. All of our favorite places. Wilcox, We stay at Quail Ridge RV Resort between Sierra Vista and the caverns, We love Bisbee and go at least a couple of times while we are down South.
It's 28 degrees at my house here in Milwaukie Oreogn right now and I just talked to my sis in Bonney Lake and it is 21 there. Enjoy Scottsdale as long as you can. This is forcasted to go on for the next 5 days. My granddkids just went over the Siskyous and scared the "bajeebeez" out of them. Looking forward to your next blog. Glad to hear Vanessa is hanging in there. :)

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