We departed from Quartzsite a bit later in the morning than anticipated, but Mom was in charge of putting the solar panels down, hitching up, dumping, and water filling. Need I say more? I also was a bit distressed, learning my poor cousin Gordon the Glutton has departed this world. His body was found dead, laying near the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) LaPosa South garbage dumpsters. All I can say is that based on the amount of refuse present and overflowing trash receptacles (a total disgrace by human standards), he was in pack rat heaven!
Our first stop was outside Phoenix to give Big Boomer and our 5th wheel a nice cleaning, only to find the Blue Beacon Truck Wash had to cease operations for the rest of the day. Seems their retention basin was full and their runoff was getting into the City water system. So we hit up the next Blue Beacon outside Tucson. A good deal and great job for only $100, which included RainEx, tire dressing, AND a hand dry!
We arrived in Tuscon, and set up “camp”. We were dry-docking at Casino Del Sol, a lovely tribal-owned and operated hotel and casino (inside which smoking is still permitted), golf course, and outdoor concert venue on Valencia Road, a main drag off of Route 10 within Tucson. They have a HUGE, secure, well-maintained parking area where RVers are welcome, free of charge, except when there are concert or tribal events. The area serves as a Park and Ride as well, so you could take mass transportation into downtown Tucson if you preferred not to disconnect your tow or towed vehicle. We unloaded the motorcycles as our mode of transportation.
Tucson is a terrific, diverse town, with loads to do, from hiking, biking, arts and cultural events, missions, and artisan restaurants and breweries. Tucson was one of our stops on our way to Alaska in 2016, during which time we visited Catalina Mountains, Biosphere 2, Mission St. Xavior, the Sonoran Desert Museum, and Mt. Lemmon (see Blog of April 18, 2016). Time constraints precluded us from visiting some of the other places on our “to do” list. So our first order of business this trip was to visit Sabino Canyon within Coronado National Forest, at which we could use our inter-agency access pass for free admission. The park opens officially at 8 a.m., and although we arrived by 8:15, it was busy and bustling already. It was very chilly riding in, but the experience was well worth it. The roadway within the Canyon is not open to private vehicles. It may only be accessed via foot, bicycle, or a hop-on, hop-off tram ride at a cost of $10/person, which is what most of the guests during our visit opted to do. Rather than hike along a paved road or sit on a tram for 25 minutes, we chose to hike up Phoneline Trail, 4.7 miles of spectacular views of the Valley, a vast array of desert flora and cacti, signs of wildlife (like coyote or bobcat poop) and a hummingbird near her nest. Best of all, we encountered very few people on the trail! The trail, reaching an elevation of 3,000+ feet, was originally blazed in the early 1900s for access to a proposed dam that never did get built. The morning chill was giving way to warmer temperatures, offering us perfect weather for our trek. I always marvel at how nature protects its existence. Like trees hanging off cliff ledges, their roots striving to maintain a hold, entangled within the rock formations. The cacti all seem to have thorns or pricks, their self-defense and survival mechanisms against wildlife stripping them of their precious water supply and nutrients.
Can you see the hummingbird enjoying the ocotillo bloom?
Some funky saguaro, notice the arms growing down on several of them.
This rock formation looked to me like a duck swimming in water.
Since we were due to meet friends for lunch in an hour, we didn't have enough time to hike back down Phoneline Trail. So we forked over the $10/person for the return tram ride. We were in the back “car”, which was towed like a travel trailer. Holy, moly! No wonder it is said not to leave pets or people in a trailer when you are towing. With the sudden, jerking motion (there were very narrow roadways/bridges and the driver had to maneuver around bicyclists and pedestrians), it was like being on the Whip, that old-school amusement park ride! Thank goodness, I held on for dear life, otherwise I would have fallen out on more than one occasion! Needless to say, picture-taking was a real challenge. Miraculously, I did get a few nice shots!
The deer actually enjoy eating these blooms off young saguaro trees.
Local lizard lying in the sun...
Surveillance duty for this little ground squirrel.
Meep, Meep! This roadrunner tries very hard to avoid Wyle E Coyote.
Time to meet up with Dad's former work associate, Dan, and his wife, Lisa, at the Barrio Brewing Company. This is a really cool off-the-beaten-path place, with some good craft beer blends as well as a surprisingly varied food menu, even for non-meat eaters! We opted for vegetable paninis. Sautéed eggplant, fire-roasted red peppers, onions, spinach, pesto aioli, and even Havarti cheese on mine and Mom’s (Dad stuck to his meal plan and did not partake of the cheese). Scrum-D-Lish-Us! And definitely fun times. These two hard-working couples truly are enjoying retirement!
We parted ways and headed back to the Casino—or so we thought. But Dad got us a little lost and we ended up in the gorgeous, affluent area of Starr Pass. Magnificent panoramas and great motorcycling, with hills, curves, and pig-tail turns. A wonderful unexpected “side trip”.
The next day, we headed to Benson. We wanted to check out the Escapees Saguaro Co-Op Park for future use. Fellow Amazonians George and Linda, lease a lot there. They invited us over in early January, but conflicts in our travel plans/schedules precluded us from getting together at that time. Finally, the stars aligned and we had an opportunity to visit. So good to see them, and we wish them well as they renovate their casita!
Always maximizing our time and efforts, we did some sightseeing. Mind you, there is not much to do or see within Benson, but we found two really unique experiences. First, we visited the Benson Visitor Center, which once served as a train depot for the Union Pacific Railroad. When you enter the building, overhead is a G-gauge train traveling along an elevated track. Nothing unusual in itself. But what is really cool is that you can run the train personally, and by viewing it through the train’s built-in camera on a large-screen monitor, you are seeing it from the perspective of a train engineer. Through a grant bestowed by Union Pacific Railroad, Docent Bob designed and hand-built the entire control panel, complete with brakes, speed control, and horn (designed with plumbing equipment), replicating all the components within an actual train! Bob was a wealth of train knowledge, too. He even taught me train horn signals: 1 toot = stop, 2 toots = going forward, 3 toots = backing up! Woot, Woot! I passed the “test”, receiving a certificate stating I successfully operated Locomotive #9837! A “must do” for children of all ages.
We also visited Gammons Gulch Old West Movie Set and Museum in Benson. Similar to Tombstone or Old Tucson, but a Mom-and-Pop outfit on approximately 25 acres, where owners Jay and Joanne Gammons live right on site and give you a personalized tour! Jay is a real hoot! He is like a Vaudeville act: an eclectic mix of music, comedy, and Old West grit. He has a repertoire of one-liner jokes (“My ex-wife was so ugly, I took her to the beach and the tide wouldn’t even come in”), and musical performances (he strums the Banjo, playing a great “Deliverance", and he even tickles the piano ivories). Like his personality, his antiques and collections are quite distinctive. For example, he has several classic cars stored on site (most inside the set buildings), like a 1929 Ford he has owned for 43 years that still runs. People call him Grandpa Walton, since this vehicle is reminiscent of what the Waltons used in that oldie-but-goodie TV series. As another example of his humor, Jay imparts that this car doesn’t have disc brakes, but instead has “P and P” brakes—push and pray they work! More than 40 lesser-known movies, television shows and series have been filmed here, as well as music videos and commercials. Additionally, many of Jay’s collectibles have been loaned out to give movie sets authenticity. For example, the 1879 push-button lamp within the saloon was used in the movie “The Quick and the Dead”. As evidenced by his wall of commemorative photos, Jay is no stranger to show-biz, having worked with many big-name stars (John Wayne, Brian Keith, John Huston) on well-known movies during his childhood. As an adult, he has played bit parts in movies/TV shows filmed on his location, including portraying a telegraph operator in the series “Dead Man”. Brother-in-law Ted is also available during tours, wearing his “Deputy Sheriff” badge, answering questions, and giving insights to the Barber Shop building, which he restored personally. I didn’t know that a barber did everything back in the day. In addition to shaving facial hair, he acted as a surgeon; he would be the person you visited to get your tooth pulled. Hence the reasoning behind the red and white stripes used on barber poles: red represented blood, white represented gauge and bandages. Or so Ted tells us. Some may consider Gammons Gulch a bit cheesy for $8/adult (though not paid until the tour is over. Jay says if you don’t like it, you don’t pay for it!). But to me, it is true Americana and the spirit of entrepreneurship at its best.
Jay, the Piano Man
Jay, getting ready to play "Deliverance"
Even Jay's felines smooze and entertain the audience.
Jay sharing his show biz secrets!
Waltons' Wheels, 1929 Ford that still runs!
The set building in which Jay, his wife, and feline friends live.
|Lamp used in the movie "The Quick and the Dead" (Sharon Stone/Gene Hackman)|
Replica mining town
Our final Tucson tourist attraction was the Pima Air and Space Museum. Founded in 1976, it is the world’s largest privately-funded, non-government museum dedicated to aerospace, with more than 300 aircraft on display. The place is huge, with several hangars, not to mention all the planes parked outside in the lots. They have a tram, but we opted to walk from hangar to hangar. Narrated tours are offered, all included in your ticket price of $16.50/adult. Tours are performed by volunteers, of which they have 390! Our guide was Bill Sproull, a Navy Seaplane Pilot during the Korean War. Needless to say, he was a fountain of knowledge regarding military aircraft, and quite proud to speak of flying a Martin PBM 5-A Mariner Seaplane like the one exhibited at the museum, which, interestingly, is the ONLY one intact of the 1,500 built. We journeyed with Bill through aviation history, starting with the replica of the plane used by the Wright Brothers for their flight in Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 (The original plane is in the Smithsonian). Then to an example of the Lockheed Electra plane used by Amelia Earhart on her fateful round-the-world flight. We went on to the various bombers and aircraft used during World War II (including an example of the aircraft used by Japanese Kamikaze), to the F4 (of which 7,000 were used in the Vietnam War), to a Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog” (the aircraft used during the Iraqi invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.) It was cool to see an F14 up close, the fighter plane depicted in the Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun”. From 1939 to 1945, nearly 300,000 military aircraft were built, many by the likes of “Rosie the Riveter”, since women represented nearly 40% of the U.S. workforce during that time! I had no concept just how GINORMOUS some of these aircraft are/were (they look so tiny when flying high above the clouds in the sky!). Of all the aircraft on display, however, my absolute favorite was the Bumble Bee! Built by Robert Starr specifically to get into the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest plane ever flown, it achieved its mission in 1984 (though his record was surpassed that same year, albeit with a monoplane. Guinness revised Starr’s record to specify smallest biplane ever flown.) The original Bumble Bee (later Starr went on to build Bumble Bee II and broke his own biplane record) was a mere 4’1” high with only a 6.5’ wingspan! Really cool stuff!
Replica of Wright Brothers' plane
Example of Lockheed Electra plane used by Amelia Earhart.
My personal favorite--The Bumble Bee!
It was time to spend some money to reciprocate the Casino for letting us stay in their lot. I gotta tell ya, my folks and I do not gamble normally. But I was feelin’ lucky, especially after our complimentary Players’ Card awarded us $25 in “free play” for slots (Could have been as low as $5, $10, or 20, but I got $25!). To activate the “free play” though, you have to insert your own money. I reluctantly broke my cheese bank and pulled out a $10 bill. There were so many slot machines to choose from. But everything I know about gambling, I learned from my Aunt Laurie, Ruby Level V.I.P. at Turning Stone Casino in NY! After careful consideration, I picked a slot machine featuring someone quite like myself, Ted, a stuffed animal with human personality flaws and traits. Ted came through for me--I netted a whopping $76.10, quite a substantial pot for a stuffed rat! Little did I know that while I was cashing in my chips, Mom and Dad were in the Paradiso Bar tearing up the dance floor! The 80z All Stars were performing, a Southern California cover band that played great “New Wave” songs by DeVo, Romantics, Billy Idol, Cindi Lauper, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, B-52s, and the like. They even showed original recording artist MTV video clips. So I guess my parents got a bit carried away reliving their dating days and reminiscing of King’s Court and the Meadowbrook dance clubs. From hearing several people compliment them on their dancing, I guess they still have a knack for it. I think we don’t have to worry about the results of Dad taking that stress test next month—with the moves he was making, I think he already passed it!
80z All Stars Band!
Well, our time in Tucson has come to an end. It sure was a blast sharing it with you. Next stop is New Mexico. Talk to you soon!
We would like to thank some amazing organizations for all they do for the RVin