13th – 29th April – A short distance from the border town of Nogales, where we will be leaving Mexico for the USA, it is necessary to get our Mexican permit cancelled, a sticker removed from our windscreen and obtain confirmation that the US$200 that we paid when entering Mexico, will be credited to our bank account. All very simple so far.
A couple of km further on and we arrive at the US border and we have no idea what to expect, after hearing many negative reports about Mexican/US crossings. After being escorted into a parking bay, it’s time to hand over selected fruit and vegetables. The woman officer reels off a list of items that she requires and gives me a sharp warning that I could face a $300 fine if I don’t get this right, so I suggest that perhaps she would like to look in all our food containers herself to be sure that I don’t forget something. She seems quite happy to do this and also removes some rice and an empty egg box. We are then escorted to the main building by a very friendly but well armed, male police officer, where we join the end of a very long queue to get our passports stamped. Our escort however, after having a quiet word with his seniors, beckons us to follow him to the front. This sudden VIP treatment is all a bit embarrassing but also very nice to get our entry approved and a 3 month visa in no time at all! We are also told, that if we wish to spend longer in the USA, we can go into Canada and then back into the US, where we would be able to get a further 3 months. This is also good news as we had been confused over many different stories about this from other travellers.
To our surprise, we have confirmation from the customs, that there is now no requirement for registering a vehicle for entry into the USA at land borders. Escorted back to our vehicle and we are wished an enjoyable stay……..we pull in at the nearest garage and celebrate with ice creams, this completely unexpected, friendly and helpful crossing! We wonder if all borders will be like this!
We take the highway toward Tucson but after a short distance, Tubac looks interesting and we discover the ‘Flying W’ RV Ranch there, which turns out to be a perfect, uncrowded place to camp for a while. Owners Danny and Jiff are only too happy to help in any way they can and to make sure that we have a comfortable stay. Our nearest neighbours are Dianne and Glen and their two dogs, all moving further south in Arizona where it is warmer. We strike up a firm friendship, enjoying a lot in common and their fascinating stories of their links with the Hopi Indians. Thank you both so much for your kind hospitality….for that delicious Easter roast, sharing your company along with your Mexican friends for my birthday meal and our day rock hounding, sharing the big open skies, climbing over rocks and boulders in the canyon, studying flowers and trees and where you taught us never to look at a piece of rock in the same way again!
We hope you will both be very happy in your new home amongst the mountains and the wildlife. We shall miss your company but it is time to move on and see some more of Arizona!
Our stay in Tubac (where art and history meet) has been a very enjoyable break and given us many opportunities to walk into the town from the RV park. It is the oldest European settlement in Arizona and has undergone many changes ……from a military fort for Spanish soldiers, to a frontier colony besieged by Apaches and finally, as a home to several working artists and many fine art galleries. Here, Native American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures come together to display their handicrafts, jewellery, paintings and sculptures. Tubac also hosts one of the largest, outdoor annual art festivals in the US.
Before leaving Tubac we visit the Mission San Xavier del Bac, founded by a Jesuit missionary in 1692. Construction of this present, beautiful church began in 1783 and it continues to serve as the parish for the Tohono O’odham people and as a shrine for many visitors.
In Tucson we are hoping at last to find adapters at a big ‘Camping World’ store so that we can fill our gas bottles. Unfortunately, because our European bottles have metric fittings as opposed to imperial in the US, it looks as if we are out of luck again and the many suggestions from various people, lead us nowhere. If we change over to the American gas cylinders, they will not fit into our storage locker and it would also mean a new cooker, which would also be too big to fit into the housing on our rear door. Our gas is running low!
And so we continue to Picacho Peak State Park where we will camp for the night. Home to the Saguaro cactus and an outstanding variety of desert plants. This park also has a very prominent 1500ft peak and its unique shape has been used as a landmark by travellers since prehistoric times. There’s time to hike the Calloway Trail with warnings of two scorpions that make their homes here. The Tree Bark Scorpion (often found on the underside of bark, as its name suggests), has apparently killed more people in the past than all the venomous snakes in the area put together but fortunately an antidote to its jabbing stings, has been discovered. I didn’t see a scorpion, but my next step would have taken me on top of a long, thin snake with a fine, black pattern along its length. It is in no hurry to move off the track, so I make the detour instead! The sunset just gets more and more spectacular, turning the huge Saguaro into dark silhouettes against its flaming colours.
We leave early the next morning to try and enjoy a cool time of the day before the heat descends. Air conditioning or tinted windows would be nice where temperatures yesterday tipped over 40……but this is nothing according to the locals…..wait another month or so they tell us and it is too hot to go out.
At Scottsdale the triple A (AAA) membership office, very kindly give us a number of maps and books all free of charge and we know they will all be very useful at different stages of our journey.
Arriving in Cottonwood, we discover all the camping areas at the Dead Horse Ranch National Park are full or reserved. However, there is fortunately an overflow site which turns out to be really quiet and with only a few vehicles…..perfect! Back in the late 1940s, the Ireys family bought this ranch and chose the name after finding a large, dead horse on the property. Later in 1973, when Arizona State Parks acquired the park, the Ireys made retaining the name, a condition of sale. Today, Gale and Judy are the delightful guardians of the campground and keep the restrooms incredibly clean with plenty of hot water. Once again, they spend time providing us with local information and places to visit such as hiking to the nearby Toozigoot National Monument (Apache for ‘crooked water’), the remains of a Southern Sinagua village built between 1125 and 1400.
Tuzigoot was built on the top of a long ridge that rises above the Verde Valley and through which the Verde River flows. Survival at Tuzigoot depended on this river and the surrounding Tavasci Marsh, a rare habitat in this desert environment. Reeds were used for baskets and mats, mud for mortar and making pots, trees for roof beams and the water used to irrigate their crops. The marsh attracted animals that were hunted to provide meat in their diet and so it was easy to see how this landscape would have provided all their needs.
Before we leave Cottonwood, we spend an evening enjoying wine and sharing stories around a campfire with a great group of people from the Oregon/Washington area that have arrived next to us. Many thanks for your company and hope you enjoy your cycling through the Red Rock State Park, where we will also be heading a little later. Thanks also to Lee and Laurie for all your information and advice and safe journey back to Phoenix.
From Cottonwood we take the route to Jerome. Located high on Cleopatra Hill on the side of Mingus Mountain and overlooking the Verde valley, it was once a prosperous copper mining town. After the mines were closed in 1953, Jerome became a virtual ghost town, until shops, galleries, studios and museums brought it back to life, making it an interesting visit. Not to be missed is a visit to the Gold King and his Gold Mine a short distance outside of town. For $4, it’s not gold you will find but a large area to explore behind the shop which is crammed with collectables and memorabilia from over many years. These beautiful old vehicles in various stages of decay and with many a story behind them, reminds me of the train graveyard that we visited in Uyuni in Bolivia.
Another ‘must’ is a visit to Sedona, nestled between the massive, fire-hued rocks of Red Rock State Park and the forested gorges of Oak Creek Canyon. Its blue skies, sharp light and colourful landscape have lured painters, sculptors and photographers and other creative souls that have made Sedona their home. Alongside the artists live spiritualists, as Sedona is said to contain a curiously high number of vortexes….natural power fields that emit energy upward from the earth. Sedona’s rugged red rocks and canyons have also served as a backdrop for many Western movies.
Late afternoon and we take the dirt road known as Schnebly Hill, named after one of the first settlers here. It’s a scenic drive through these giant monoliths where clouds and sun can quickly change their colours from shades of red and orange, to pale sand.
A drive to the rim of Oak Creek Canyon provides a very different view to the semi-arid landscape that we have just left. Oak Creek flows between the 1200ft canyon walls on its way to the red rocks of Sedona.
We continue to Flagstaff situated on the Colorado Plateau with mountains providing a scenic backdrop and where there is an excellent KOA campsite. These campsites are a bit more expensive but facilities are always good and the weather has given us a nasty shock……..it’s bitterly cold with a vicious wind and snow flurries! Flagstaff is a useful city to visit although an adaptor for our gas bottle still cannot be found and we finally go ‘all electric’ with a 2 ring electric cooker from Wallmart. The remaining gas in our last bottle will be kept for an emergency.
Whilst at Flagstaff we head east to visit Meteor Crater and its museum on the Rim. Before heading down to the crater itself, we would certainly recommend watching the 10 min. movie called ‘Impact – The Mystery of Meteor Crater’, which has you on the edge of your seats!
This aerial photo gives an idea of the enormity of the crater on an otherwise unbroken plain, disappearing into the hazy distance.
Meteor Crater was formed 50,000 years ago when a huge, iron-nickel meteorite, estimated to have been about 150ft across, weighing several hundred thousand tons and traveling at about 40,000 miles per hour (or more than 11 miles per second), slammed into the Earth, creating in seconds, a crater 700 ft. deep and over 4000 ft. across! Today, due to inevitable erosion of the rim and walls of the crater by wind, water and heat, it measures 550 ft. deep. To give an idea of its size, It is said that 20 football games on 20 football fields could be played at the same time on the floor of the crater, while 2 million spectators could watch from its rocky slopes!
This crater is said to be ‘ the world’s best preserved and first proven example of a meteor crater, providing a site for many important discoveries in the science of meteorites and craters’.
From 1963, astronauts scheduled for Apollo missions to the moon, were trained here because of the similarity to craters on the lunar surface. It gave the astronauts a chance to learn how to make their way around a cratered environment and how to collect rocks that had been ejected. A space suit designed for missions to Mars, was also tested at this crater.
This test capsule on show that represents an Apollo command module, never flew into space. Instead it was built in 1965 to test the systems that helped Apollo space capsules float upright after splash-down at sea. It was incredible to think of living in this for several days when on a mission.
Arizona is of course the Grand Canyon State and tomorrow we will make our way there and hope for good weather, even if it is still cold. One Canyon but two rims……the North and South Rims are just approx. 10 miles apart as the raven flies but about 215 miles by road. Winter snow has closed the North Rim of the Canyon until mid-May but the South Rim usually stays open all year and this is where we will visit. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, we are sure it will be a powerful and spectacular landscape!