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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona

I have decided if I am going to continue living in the gorgeous state of Oregon, I need
to travel a bit more in the winters.... or become a snowbird. (I am working on that angle. I am not a fan of winter.) But for this year I did a two week trip to the areas around Phoenix and Tucson, I will go back to explore the rest of Arizona at a warmer time of the year.
December is usually 60's and 70's which the locals think is cold. They can tell who is a tourist by the fact that we are wearing shorts and T shirts while they are all bundled up. I lost track of how many people commented on my attire, women would ask me "wasn't I cold" and men would remark that I am obviously from out of state.

Goat Mountain on the Apache Trail.

The first week I stayed in Old Town Scottsdale which I thought was a better option than downtown Phoenix. As I was driving around Scottsdale looking for a grocery store on my first evening, I happened upon Frys Food and Drug.
As I was shopping I started to notice a lot of their stuff looked familiar and when I got to the checkout I was pleased to see that it is the same as a Fred Meyer at home, so I could use my membership card for food, and also to get cheaper gas.

Being a hiker, I spent most of my time finding trails to explore, but I also checked out all the different towns that were relatively close, and did a few touristy things as well.

On day one I went over to Cave Creek and Carefree. This is where I found the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation area where you can hike and ride horses, and right next to it is the Jewel of the Creek Preserve where I went for a short stroll. I noticed there is an effort to blend the colors of the houses in with nature as much as possible. Also in this area, the neighborhoods were all solar powered, with no unsightly power lines at all.
Carefree is right next door to Cave Creek, both are horsey western towns. Carefree had streets with names like Ho and Hum Rds., Nonchalant Ave, and Lazy Lane.

On the Jewel of the Creek Preserve, Cave Creek.

I also visited Apache Junction, and while I was there of course I had to check out Goldfield Ghost Town which is quite the kitschy tourist trap.
I wandered around looking at the various shops, had some ice cream, and managed to not get sucked into an expensive tour of the mine, or a visit into the vortex. I had mostly heard about this place previously because you can camp here with your horse and ride right up to the bar at the Mammoth Saloon. They have a whole "horse parking" section in front of the saloon with hitching rails.

Goldfield Ghost Town.

December is obviously not high tourist season yet, I found myself going to places where I was either alone or just one of a few people milling about. Of course it is nice to beat the crowds, but I did notice several tourist destinations were closed and/or being renovated, since they know it is the slow season. On the other hand when I did arrive somewhere, the employees, who were obviously bored to tears, were pretty ecstatic to see me, and I got a lot of attention and some in depth tours and information I might not have otherwise.

Living in the NW and being used to looking at a mountain in the distance, and seeing tall
greenery on it, you just assume they are trees, but here they are giant saguaros.Takes a little getting used to. And they are everywhere, plus of course a million other varieties of cactus. Not an ideal place for bushwacking. Although bushwack I did do, but more about that later...

Saguaro's by the millions.

A typical cactus filled trail.

The Superstition Mountains quickly became my favorite destination.
I spent a couple of days hiking there and I also drove the Apache Trail which is a 150 mile loop starting from Apache Junction. There is some beautiful scenery to behold as you drive past Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and then Roosevelt Dam and Lake. The road turns to dirt for a pretty long while and there is one stretch that is narrow and cliffy. Fish Creek Canyon is at the bottom of this. I stopped to look around and noticed a few guys were doing a short hike over to a cave, as I was observing them I noticed movement on the hill way above their heads. It was a Bighorn Sheep who had gotten spooked from the noise the guys were making, and they had no idea he was even there.

A long stretch of the Apache Trail is a narrow dirt road with cliff sections.

At Tortilla Flat. On the Apache Trail.

At Tortilla Flat. On the Apache Trail.

A Bighorn Sheep in Fish Creek Canyon.

Apache Lake.

Apache Lake on the Apache Trail.

After passing Roosevelt Dam, I found Frazier campground right on Roosevelt Lake, I just drove in to look around and lo and behold I stumbled across a horse camp. One horse person was camped there at the time, and there was also a host. I also checked out the trailhead that leads up into the cactus strewn hills above camp, and eventually to the Arizona Trail.

Roosevelt Dam.

Frazier Horse Camp at Roosevelt Lake.

Roosevelt Lake.

If driving this loop clockwise, once you get back onto pavement, the Salado Cliff Dwellings are the next stop and they are really interesting. You have two choices, arrive anytime and
do a fairly steep half a mile walk up to see the Lower Cliff Dwellings, which is what I did.
Or you can reserve a spot on a tour of the Upper Cliff Dwellings which are in better shape ( the
lower dwellings were vandalized quite a bit back when the dam was being built, and before anyone thought to protect them.) Because of the lack of time, since I was doing the whole drive in one day, I did not reserve a spot, but they have the tours four days a week starting at 10:00 am.

The Lower Salado Cliff Dwellings.

Inside the Lower Salado Cliff Dwellings.

Lots of rattlers in AZ.  I found this little guy on the trail, a little unusual to see them out on a colder (for them) day.

I did of course keep an eye out in my travels for horse trails.There does seem to be quite a few options. When I would go on a hike somewhere I would pretty much always see another area for parking trailers. But I have to say for me personally, riding in this part of AZ would be pretty deja vu with a lot of the same scenery.

I hiked the Peralta Canyon Trail in the Superstition's and it was very pretty. This trail is open to horses but I would suggest using one of the other trails to get into the same area...this trail has a lot of boulders and some sections that would be tricky. Once reaching the saddle you get a great view of Weavers Needle.

On the Peralta Canyon Trail.

On the Peralta Canyon Trail.

Weavers Needle.

I also hiked the Hieroglyphic Trail which takes you to an area with petroglyphs, and some pools of water left over from the last time it rained. From there I wanted to keep hiking so although the trail technically ends at the petroglyphs I kept climbing up the canyon which turned into my aforementioned bushwacking experience. I was bouldering for several hours following some cairns placed along the way. I guess you can eventually climb all the way up to the Superstition Rim Trail, but I did not go that far. There are always a lot of people hiking on the trails no matter what day of the week, so it was nice to get away from the crowds for awhile. I looked a bit rough by the end of the day, my legs got pretty scratched up from the small thorn filled bushes along the way, but it was worth it.

On the Hieroglyphic Trail.

The end of the Hieroglyphic Trail.

Some of the Petroglyphs.

Where I finally stopped bushwacking.

I also visited Wickenburg to see what all the fuss was about, a lot of horse people I know winter there. Just looked like a regular town to me, so after checking it out, I did a short hike over at Vultures Peak.

The Jail Tree in Wickenberg. Outlaws were chained here.

Vultures Peak outside Wickenberg. Lots of cholla cactus.

My hotel was very close to Papago Park, which has some red rocks that look fake, but aren't.
I stopped in one day on my way home, and checked out "hole in the rock".
This is also where I saw my first road runner, this was very exciting, having watched the cartoon an awful lot as a child.

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park.

A roadrunner.

I also visited a couple of attractions in Phoenix, the Pueblo Grande museum and archaeological site and the Heard Museum.
They were both interesting, the Heard Museum is all American Indian collections and art, and the archaeological site is ruins from the Hohokam Indians who lived and farmed in the area sometime back before AD 500.

The second week I spent in Tucson and it ended up being a revelation to me. I assumed it would be just like Phoenix, and parts of it are, but if you head east you will arrive in the grasslands which are beautiful. And there are so many mountain ranges in the Tucson area that are high elevation which meant some lovely hikes amongst grass and trees, and a whole lot less cactus!

The drive from Phoenix to Tucson doesn't take very long, so once I arrived I stopped at the west side of Saguaro National Park, noticed that the road was closed, you could still get into the visitors center but none of the actual park, so I left and went to the San Xavier Mission instead.

San Xavier Mission.

Inside San Xavier Mission.

The next day I went to Tombstone, it seemed like a tourist destination I probably had to see. Besides just walking up and down the street and/or shopping they have a few options for entertainment, you can go on a mine tour, visit the Bird Cage Theater which has original items in it from when it was in operation as a theater/brothel.
Or you can see the reenactment of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. I opted for that. With my $10.00 entry fee, I saw the reenactment, the original dirt lot where the actual gunfight occurred, several museums and a film about the history of Tombstone. Also as a souvenir I got a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph (the newspaper) from the day of the gunfight in 1881.


Actors walk the street for ambience.

Wyatt Earp, his two brothers and Doc Holliday await us at the OK Corral.

The actual dirt lot where the real gunfight occurred.

The Boothill graveyard in Tombstone where the four who died that day are buried.

After Tombstone I drove over to the really cute mining town of Bisbee and also checked out the giant hole in the earth that used to be the Lavender Pit Copper Mine.


The Lavender Pit Copper Mine, they stopped mining it in 1975.

I had a guidebook which I used on this trip, but I may now use it for fire starter, I was not pleased with the amount of inaccuracies in it. It barely touched on the Madera Canyon area in the Santa Rita Mountains, but I decided to check it out anyway and was really happy I did. This is a very popular place for birders and there are plenty of trails to explore. I did a loop hike along the Old Baldy Trail and down the Super Trail.

On the Old Baldy Trail.

The Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest.

Although a bit of a drive from the Tucson area, Chiricahua National Monument was a must see for me. I've been to Bryce Canyon before and although the hoodoos/formations in Chiricahua are made from different substances and are less colorful, the similarities are obvious.
I left my hotel at the crack of dawn in order to get there before 9:am. The reason for this is they have a great option for hiking in the park, they will take you in a shuttle ( only once per day) to the farthest trailhead, drop you off, and you can hike back to the visitors center. There is a short way back or a longer way, just over 7 miles, which is what I did.
This park is free, and you can also ride horses there, although one area, Heart of Rocks which is probably the most spectacular, is off limits to horses due to the trail being too narrow and rocky in places. I found a couple of tarantulas while on my hike, they were medium sized as far as tarantulas go, and I am not scared of spiders, but it did make me slightly more alert than normal when I sat down a little while later to eat lunch.

Chiricahua National Monument.

Found two tarantulas on the trail.

Rock formations in Chiricahua National Monument.

In the Heart Of Rocks section, some of the formations are named. This is The Old Maid.

Balancing Rock.

 Chiricahua National Monument.

Willcox which is the closest town to the Monument cracked me up, although temperatures were in the 70's the Dairy Queen does not operate in the winter.

Nobody wants ice cream in the winter around here.

On another day I went on a scenic drive through the mountains and ended up in Sonoita and Patagonia. Both of these are very small, not particularly interesting towns, but they are in the grasslands which I loved. I visited what was once the Empire Ranch but is now a huge piece of BLM in Sonoita. The ranch buildings are still there and I toured around the area for awhile wishing I had my horse with me.

The grasslands in Sonoita, this is a very large piece of BLM.

In the town of Hereford there is an army garrison called Fort Huachuca. My guidebook had said there was an interesting museum to see, so I turned to drive in, and realized I was going to have to go through a checkpoint, and it was too late to back up. My guidebook also said that all you need to do is show picture ID, so I whipped out my license. The lady then proceeded to ask me if I had a military ID, I said no, so she held up traffic for me to turn around and get back out of there...sigh, have I mentioned the guidebook was lame.

I decided to check out the Coronado National Memorial, which is right smack up against the border to Mexico. At the visitors center I got a brochure/map and as I was driving up to Montezuma Pass on a narrow dirt road, I passed a sign warning of the dangers associated with this area. However once I got to the top of the pass, there was an abundance of border guards, and a couple of people picnicking, so I set off to hike to the border on the Arizona Trail. Once I arrived at the fence, there was a large hole cut in it, so you can step on over into Mexico and say you have been there, so that is indeed what I did.

Lots of border guards at Montezuma's Pass.

Signage in the park.

Looking down into Mexico.

The border, with a convenient hole in the fence.

On another day I drove over to the town of Oracle, I had planned to check it out first, then turn around, go back to Tucson and then proceed to drive up to Mt. Lemmon. But as I was driving through Oracle I saw a sign pointing towards Mt. Lemmon from there, so I thought I would follow it for awhile. It turned to dirt fairly soon, and I passed a horse camp (Hay Creek Ranch) and then found myself out in the middle of nowhere for a long time. Eventually I had to turn around, after awhile the road was not suitable for small rental cars. On  my way back, closer to civilization again, I found a pull out where you can park and hike/ride the Arizona Trail so I went for a short walk there.

Views on the back road to Mt. Lemmon.

A pull out to access the Arizona Trail.

The next day I went ahead and did what I had planned to do the day before, and drove up the main paved road that goes through the Santa Catalina Mountains and eventually to Mt. Lemmon which is the highest peak. There are a lot of places to stop and admire the views. At the top is the ski hill, although it was still closed, with no snow to speak of up there yet.

Views on the drive up to Mt. Lemmon.

Rock climbers on the way up to Mt. Lemmon.

Found another horse camp on the way up to Mt. Lemmon. This is at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area.

The following day I had to fly home, leaving behind a very warm day of over 80 degrees to find myself at home in over a foot of snow, and with a frozen well. Ugh. Back to reality.