March 21 - April 10 - Casa Grande & Tombstone AZ
Casa Grande (6) seems to be turning into one of our regular stops - this is our third time in as many years. It's about 150 miles, almost all on the interstate, from Cottonwood (5). We go right through the middle of Phoenix, not a big deal when you avoid rush hour. After a fuel stop in Cottonwood, it was about lunchtime when we pulled in to the Desert Shadows RV Resort. With reciprocal membership privileges, we stay there for free, and it's convenient to most everything. There's an itinerant peddler of Native American jewelry who sets up shop there during the winter, and the day after our arrival was his last day, so we timed that well. Judy had a treasured necklace repaired and bought a watch.
On the way down the road to Casa Grande we encountered our first "mud storm". There were some pretty high winds blowing a lot of sand and dust around, and then it rained through the dust clouds. Our windshield was being hit by little mud balls - really just very dirty raindrops. We'd never seen that kind of thing before. Messy and curious at the same time. Lasted about 2 minutes.
Our first day, we joined John & Valerie Smart from Reedsport at our mutually favorite restaurant - Mimi's Cafe - for dinner and conversation. They were getting ready to head for home, and we're glad they hung around long enough to connect. Before leaving town, they introduced us to ChocoVine. Made in Holland, it's a combination of chocolate and wine. Doesn't taste much like wine, but it's tasty nevertheless. Kind of like a fortified chocolate milk, decadent in so many wonderful ways. We adopted a couple of bottles from the World Market.
And to our delight, we discovered the brand new Culver's Restaurant in Casa Grande. We patronize Culver's whenever we can for delicious Butterburgers and frozen custard treats. This one had been open about 10 days when we went the first time, and seemed to be doing quite well, even without our repeated patronage. On prior visits to Casa Grande we'd had to drive considerable distance to the nearest Culver's, up in the Phoenix suburbs.
We didn't have a lot on our list for the two weeks in Casa Grande, and most of it involved heading north to the Phoenix area. High on the list was the Mesa Marketplace, a marvelously huge and varied flea market. It's always well worth a wander. We didn't buy much of anything, just wandered and gawked. Old folks fun.
While in Cottonwood we'd seen a documentary on the building of a brand new museum in Phoenix - the Musical Instrument Museum. The MIM, as it's known, had been open just about a year. It's a spectacular facility, with the objective to display musical instruments from every country on earth. We planned our visit for our 19th wedding anniversary, and spent several hours wandering the exhibits. We finally left because they were closing. They don't have every country represented yet, but they're well on the way. We saw many marvelous music-makers, some familiar, most new to us. Every visitor is issued a headset. Almost every exhibit has an audio-video display, and the headsets latch onto whatever sound you're close to. Works really well, and you get to hear many of the instruments displayed. The museum makes the point that, no matter who we are or where we're from, music is pretty much universal. It's one of the things that makes us all human. If you're into music, and you're ever within a hundred miles of Phoenix, make a day of it at The MIM. You won't be disappointed.
We capped off our anniversary day with dinner at one of our other wanna-dos, the Organ Stop Pizza. We've written before about the pipe organ built into a pizza place (or maybe it's the other way around). A marvelously huge Wurlitzer theatre organ expertly played for hundreds of folks eating some pretty good pizza. There are only a few of these pipe organ restaurants left - there's one in Milwaukee WI we haven't been to, and we hear a new one just opened in Las Vegas. Combined with the Organ Stop, that may be whole list. There was a very nice one outside Sarasota FL that we went to a few years ago, but it's gone now.
When we started traveling, we transferred our entire CD library to an iPod - over 9,000 tracks that would play nonstop for almost a month. We're quite sure there's stuff on there we haven't yet heard. A few years ago, we upgraded the radio in the motorhome to one that natively connected to the iPod, and the sound quality is pretty good. But the iPod connection in the car has always been cobbled together, and the sound suffered. While in Casa Grande, we visited the local Best Buy and picked out a new radio that would connect properly to the iPod. After it was installed, we found that our iPod was too old for the new radio to control. That led us to buy a new iPod as well, making the project more extensive (and expensive) than anticipated. So now we have two iPods, identically loaded, one for each vehicle, and good sounds where-ever and however we roll.
Most of the snowbirds start heading north around the first of April, and those in Casa Grande are no exception. The RV park was pretty full when we got there, and nearly empty when we left. Temps were in the 70s when we arrived, and pushing 100 by the time we left. Our first Sunday in Casa Grande we went to the Easter Cantata presented by First Presbyterian Church. They presented it that far ahead of Easter before all the snowbirds left - performers and audience. Staged with two performances in their Family Life Center, there were about 700 or so folks in the audience when we went - and two choirs, a handbell choir, two keyboards, two narrators and a 20-piece wind and percussion orchestra performing. Judy, smiling all the while, allowed as it was at least as good as any of the cantatas she'd produced. The next Sunday, communion was served in the Sanctuary with a couple hundred people there, and it seemed like most in the crowd were snowbirds, all saying goodbye to each other. We're told attendance in the hot weather drops to around 40 or 50 people. First Pres is one of the many things we like about Casa Grande.
On April 4, we drove about 140 miles south to the Tombstone Territories RV Resort (7), about 8 miles from Tombstone AZ. And when it got hot we fired up the generator so we could run the air conditioning as we drove. Generator wouldn't keep running. It always seems to be something. After checking in to the RV park, we called the local drive-by RV fixer, and they said they'd be by the next day to check out the generator.
While in Yuma, we'd seen an ad in an RV publication about the Tombstone Territories RV Resort, and after some checking, decided to come this way. Advertising does work. The park does accept one of our half-price camping cards, but doesn't take reservations for discounted sites. So we arrived sans reservations, but had no problems being placed on a premium site, top of the hill, spectacular views. We stayed 6 nights. Being about 3,000 feet higher in elevation than Casa Grande, temps were cooler - 40s most nights, 70s most days.
Next morning our new computer died. It was only 6 months old. After a couple hours of experimenting, we determined that it wasn't just merely dead, it was really most sincerely dead, so we headed into nearby Sierra Vista and shopped computers. Best Buy to the rescue, and we came home with a new laptop, which Al proceeded to configure and load, a process that took most of two days. The old one will most likely have to go back to the factory, and as we're told there's a 2-3 week turnaround on that kind of stuff, we won't be able to get it fixed until we land someplace for that long. Might not be until fall or winter. On a better note, the RV fixer guy came by and found that the generator's fuel line had vibrated loose, resulting in low fuel pressure. He tightened it up, and charged us only for the minimum service call. When fixing an RV, anything under $100 is a real deal. We were somewhat pleased.
We'd never spent any time in this corner of Arizona, and there's lots that looks interesting. Tombstone trades these days on the legends surrounding the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral. We went to one of the several daily replays of the incident, staged in an arena adjacent to the original OK Corral. Nobody's sure what really happened that day - even folks who were participants told different stories at different times, including Wyatt Earp, the most famous survivor. The actor playing Doc Holliday introduced the dramatization with an opening speech worthy of a Shakespeare play, in which he called it "a new imagining of the events of that fateful day". Needless to day, there was much drama (we suspect mostly to pad a rather brief incident into something worth paying to see) and lots of gunfire, after which the survivors posed for pictures with the tourists.
Back in the day, Tombstone was a silver town. It was named for the first silver mine, the Tombstone. Story goes that the guy who found that first silver vein was told as he set out to explore the southern Arizona desert wasteland that the only thing he'd ever get out of that ground would be his tombstone. So, with a grin, he named that first mine (he wound up with 19) the Tombstone Mine. After the town was formed, somebody started a newspaper and, with an equal sense of humor, named it The Epitaph. At some point, they adopted the slogan "Read your Epitaph before breakfast". You can tour the newspaper office, filled with "historic" printing equipment identical to the stuff Al used in his high school printing classes. There's a depressing message someplace in that fact.
<img align="right" src="Album/slides/20110404151054.JPG" width="415" height="315"There are about 300 miles of silver mine tunnels under the city of Tombstone, and one of the mines - the Good Enough Mine - has been cleaned up and opened for tours. We took the tour. The life of a silver miner was not an easy one. According to our tour guide, there were no recorded deaths of miners working in the mines. That was one of the things nobody bothered to keep track of. Miners worked 12-hour shifts every day except Sunday. There were almost 200 saloons in the town, and they did keep records. Average consumption of whiskey was estimated at about a quart per miner per day. The miners who weren't working drunk were probably working hung over. It's a safe bet that there are a lot of unmarked graves in those mines, in addition to the "unknown" markers in Boot Hill.
Tombstone is also home to "The World's Largest Rosebush" - proclaimed so by both Ripley and Guinness. For a couple of bucks, you can wander around its 8,000 square foot expanse and tour the adjacent historic inn, now filled with old-timey memorabilia. A fun and fragrant experience.
Our best find was the Kartchner Caverns State Park, about 8 miles south of Benson. The caverns were discovered by amateur spelunkers in 1974, and they and the land owners kept it a secret for 14 years. Given the freeway that runs past the caves, they were sure that publicity would result in vandalism, and the cave was too beautiful to risk that. In 1988 they started confidential negotiations with the State about turning the caves into a state park. It wasn't until special legislation was introduced and quickly passed that the cave went public. After another 10 years of planning and construction, the caverns were opened to the public for tours.
Arizona did it right. They visited many other show caves, asking operators what they'd do different today. They developed the cave with cave preservation at the top of the list. The result is quite possibly the most spectacular cavern tour we've been on. Only a limited number of tours are offered, and only a limited number of people can be accommodated. There are six (!) airlock doors to go through to get into the caves, and you get misted with water going in to suppress outside dust. You're not allowed to bring anything into the caverns - no purses, no bags, no water, no food, no gum, no cameras or phones or flashlights. We joked they'd probably prefer us all to go in naked. The paths are all fully ADA compliant - we had one wheelchair on our tour - and they've designed the paths with curbs so they can clean them without getting the dirt off the path and into the untrod parts of the cave. The cave is closed to tours during the nursery time for the resident bat colony. It's about as pristine a show cave as you can get.
No cameras means no pictures for us, so we've shamelessly borrowed a few from the internet. If you're ever in the Tucson area, plan on visiting Kartchner Caverns. Planning is key - you'll probably have to make reservations as least a day or two ahead, further out during busy times.
We liked the Tombstone Territories RV Resort. People were very friendly, the facilities were great, and it was far enough away from any city lights that the nighttime sky was spectacular. Other than some brisk winds, which we understand are a usual spring thing, it was just about perfect. One night they had a "birthday bash" for anybody with an April birthday. The entertainment was a guitar player named Johnny Bencomo, who plays an 18-string guitar. He says it's one of only 3 such guitars in the world, and that he's the only person playing one in public. 18 strings, 18 tuning keys, all on the same neck. His playing was delightful. His singing, not so much. But the evening was enjoyable.
There's lots more to see in this corner of Arizona, so we'll probably have to come back - when the wind isn't blowing.
And on April 10, we hooked up and headed east for a long 3-day drive to the Texas Gulf Coast, where we'll be for Easter. But that's for our next report.