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Travel Stories

Southwest & Big Bend

January 17 - March 4, 2003

Visits to Agua Caliente County Park in the Anza Borrego Dessert, Quartzsite, and Mesa, AZ.   Visited with family in Phoenix area.  Then on to Texas and Big Bend National Park.


Adventures of Krystonia

We got such wonderful feedback from our "Adventures of Krystonia" emails from our trip last summer that we are going to do it again.  

REVIEW: "Krystonia is a magic land brought to life by Beau Dix and Mark Scott in their fantasy books published in England in the mid 1980's.  When we got our fifth wheel it was suggested that we name it.  Krystonia seemed appropriate.  In the first book, Moplos, speaking to a friend says: "On second thought, I think I might stay a while longer." This has become our theme."

On January 17th, we left on our second major adventure in Krystonia.  It is our plan to occasionally write about our adventures and email it to friends and family.  We hope you enjoy hearing from us.  We encourage your feedback.

From Sacramento we went south on Interstate 5.  We have again brought Hobbes, our Abyssinian cat. Hobbs had his 14th birthday on our last trip.  He still isn't happy about riding in the truck.  He "sings" to us the first few hours of each day.  Probably good that we do not understand cat talk.  We may not appreciate the words.  Sounds a little like the angry protest songs from the sixties.

We are currently at Agua Caliente County Park in San Diego County.  (County Code #41.123.1  No Pets in Park -- Shhhh... Hobbes is keeping a low profile.) It is located in Anza Borrego State Park.  More about Agua Caliente, in a moment, but first some information about Anza-Borrego.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park encompasses some of the most diverse desert landscape in the world.   Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego's wonders unfold from the eastern slopes of the Peninsular Ranges in San Diego County to the western edge of Imperial County.  From Riverside County in the north, the Park reaches south almost to the Mexican border. Nearly two-thirds of the Park is pristine wilderness, sheltering an astonishing proliferation of plant and animal life, including the endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep.

Agua Caliente has a natural hot springs which is its primary attraction.  For us being here is a "blast from the past".  Early in our marriage we frequently spent time here.  It was our favorite place in the early 60's when the kids were young.  Many Easter weeks were spent here.  When Arlo was teaching school in San Diego we liked to come here to "unwind" at the end of the school year.  But for Arlo it goes back farther than that.  As a youngster he came here with his parents.  At that time it was just a "spot in the desert", no county or state park. There was a small stoned in mineral pool just up a small slope from the desert floor.  Often nobody else was camped here.  The custom was to use the pool au natural.  The code was that if there was a towel hanging on a near by bush - stay away until your turn.  This was probably 60 or more years ago.  My how things have changed.  The original pool is filled with rocks; there is a small cement pool in the campground, behind a fence, with posted hours.  And there is a large "therapeutic" pool that is enclosed for people who are here "for the cure".

Weather:  Low 70's, clear as a bell, breezy, dry and very quiet except for some bird songs and coyotes yipping and howling at night.

We leave Friday for Quartzite, AZ and then to Phoenix.


Adventures of Krystonia

About Pictures:  Thanks for asking.  Here is the deal… unless there is a data port in the RV Park we are staying at or I am near a Kinko’s, I use my cell phone for email.  Sometimes the reception is marginal and it is a very slow (14.4 bps) which makes it impractical to send large files like pictures.  I promise pictures when it is possible.

The past four days were spent at Quartzsite, AZ.  Quartzsite is at the cross roads of highways 10 and 95 in western Arizona.  It is surrounded by BLM land.  In the summer time the population is just a few hundred.  But in the winter months it grows to over 100,000.  It is a Mecca for RVers.  When you come over the crest driving into Quartzsite, it first appears as if the shallow valley is covered with snow.  As you get closer you realize the BLM land is filled with RVs of every size and description.  They are parked in the desert in small groups or all alone, it doesn’t matter.  No roads and no straight lines just RVs scattered out there on the sand, in the sage brush.  From $800,000 Motor homes to VW busses, they are all there.   There are no two alike, many have large solar panels, some as large as the rig.  In town is the worlds largest flea market.  You can buy almost anything from junk to really good deals, many of which are aimed at the RVer.  It is also a very popular place for rock hounds.  People first began gathering there for rock shows (not the music kind) many years ago.  It would take days to see it all.  It is a most amazing experience that must be experienced to understand, words do not begin to describe it.

We were there with the RV Driving School.  Dick Reed who owns the RV Driving School has a philosophy that once you have completed his lessons you are part of the family.  Ruth and I took the training last May.  Each year Dick invites all the alumni and his instructors to meet at Quartzsite for the RV School House Party.  This year there were 18 rigs.  We had good fellowship, great pot lucks and wonderful campfires.  Everybody had travel stories to tell around the campfire.  Some of the folks have been “full timing” for 8 to 10 years.  They had much to teach us.  Everybody was there to help out and share their knowledge and experience.  We needed new “house batteries” for Krystonia.  I got excellent advice on the best kind and where to buy them for the best price in town.  We converted from two 12 volt to four 6 volt batteries.  When I was having trouble getting the wiring correct there was someone right there to help.  Sitting around a large campfire with a sky full of stars, listening to the coyotes and sharing RV travel experiences is what it is all about.

Tonight we are in Phoenix.  We will be visiting with family the next couple of days and then head south for Tucson.


Adventures of Krystonia

January 31, 2003

One of the reasons for travel is to experience the diversity in this land.  As we travel we are struck by the familiarity.  Driving through urban and suburban areas the names are all so recognizable.  Target and Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Safeway, Sears and Circle K, and of course all the fast food joints, the list could go on and on.  The difference between central Arizona and northern California is the style of architecture and the landscaping.  Away from these areas there is the vanishing breed of small towns and rural communities.  They continue to be unique, possessing a personality of their own.  That is what we are looking for in our adventures.

Today we drove through some of these places on our way to Casa Grande Ruins.  After a long battle with the desert, the ancient building still commands respect.  Four stories high and 60 feet long, it is the largest structure known to exist in Hohokam times.  Its walls face the four cardinal points of the compass.  The Hohokam tamed the rivers with irrigation canals.  Villages on the main canals formed irrigation communities that regulated the system.  The Classic period lasted from around 1150 to about 1400.  In 1892 the Casa Grande became the nation’s first archeological preserve.  (Pictures will be sent later.)

Tomorrow morning we leave for Tucson and Benson.


Adventures of Krystonia

Random Thoughts:  Unless you want to electrocute yourself whenever you touch metal, or zap the cat or your wife when you touch them, do not wear fleece in the desert.   Hint - bring cotton sweatshirts to wear when it is cool in the evenings and mornings.

The difference between retirement RVing and prior to retirement RVing:  Before, on "moving days" 300+ miles per day, this trip averaging 168 miles per day.

De Grazia Gallery:  You may be familiar with his art.  He specializes in the Southwest with emphasis on Indian and Mexican themes.  A landmark in Tucson, De Grazia's Gallery in the Sun welcomes thousands of visitors each year.  It is of unique adobe construction with beautiful decorative features and original De Grazia art.  De Grazia's art, the gallery's architecture, and the beautiful southwest desert setting all combine to give visitors a treasured experience.  De Grazia's work is so amazing because he works in bronze, oils, enamels, watercolor and ceramics.  This is a mural found in the little chapel, which was built in honor of Padre Kino.

Today we are in Benson, AZ, east of Tucson.  We will be here a week because there is much to see in this area.  Yesterday we went to Tombstone made famous by Wyatt Earp.  We have reservations to tour Kartchner Caverns on Wednesday.

Weather:  Still warm and sunny during the day but cool to cold at night.  Last night it got down to 27 degrees.


Adventures of Krystonia

Bisbee is 90 miles southeast of Tucson.  This Old West mining camp proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world, producing nearly three million ounces of gold; and more than eight billion pounds of copper, not to mention the silver, lead and zinc that come from these rich Mules Mountains.  By the early 1900’s, the Bisbee community was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.  It had a population of 20,000 people and had become the most cultured city in the Southwest.  We took the Queen Mine Tour, a trip down into the now inactive copper mine.  As you can see in this picture, we road on a small train 1500 feet into the mine.  Our tour guide had spent 25 years working in the mine when it was still active.  He had many wonderful stories to tell.  His picture is attached.

Weather:  Had a change. Now it is below normal.  Night before last the water pipe froze.  Did not cause any serious problems because the onboard water we carry for when we do not have hook-ups still worked until we could get the hose thawed.  No more shorts and sitting outside in the sun.


Adventures of Krystonia

February 8, 2003

We find ourselves often using the phrase “In the middle of nowhere.”  But “nowhere” can’t exist, so how can you be in the middle of it?  And if you were there, you would not exist either.  So I guess we are really in the “middle of someplace.”  We would like to share some “someplaces” with you…

Someplace in America, part one…..

Arizona Vineyard – Located 4 miles north of Nogales on Highway 82.

Living near Napa Valley, we had to check this place out.  They specialize in “unique country wines” made in Arizona.  They describe themselves as a 19th Century Winery.  Their selection of wines is unique with names like; Desert Dust, Grand Canyon, Road Runner White, Coyote Red and Sweet Killer Bee.  Their tasting room is also 19th Century, where they encourage you to taste all of their over 15 different wines. 

The more you test the better it gets!  We found six that we liked.  Interestingly, they offer 12 for the price of 10.  So getting two of each we liked, we now have a case of wine in our bathtub (storage is limited in an RV).

Someplace in America, part two…

Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co. – Found in the Santo Cruz Valley just a few miles north of the border of Arizona and Mexico. <www.santacruzchili.com>

This is a small family-owned business.  It is a source of pride.  The chili products reflect the ‘untrue mixture of Mexican and Western cultures’ that are so much a part of the Santa Cruz Valley.  They advertise that the flavors are pure and authentic.  As you walk into this small shop you find rows and rows of spices, all in small packages.  Each is listed with their ingredients.  We left with:  Salmon Rub, Mole Padano, Green Chili Powder, Taco Seasoning all in 3oz packages and some Jalapeno Jelly and Cranberry & Jalapeno Jelly.

Someplace in America, part three…

Udder Delight! – Located in the Ghost Town of Pearce, Arizona.  No Wall-Mart or Target, no McDonalds or fast food.  <www.udderdelight.com>

Handcrafted Goat Milk Soap made by Marcia Boathman.  To put it in Marcia’s own words: 

“Everyone asks me, how in the world did you decide to make SOAP???  Well, I was a “grand champion” cheese maker for 20 years before I made a bar of soap.  I taught cheese making to my children, along with 4-H kids and I was the 4-H Dairy Goat and Dairy Foods leader for many years as my own children were growing up.  My kids grew up and I was empty-nesting, trying to figure out what the heck to do with all this milk.  One day, I made a bar of soap, replacing the water part with goat milk.  It was TERRIBLE soap but still, better than any store bought soap I ever used.  I worked for a year to perfect the technique and recipe and finally got it right.  Along came the research into the other products, and now, five years later, we make superior body products, all natural, and all by hand.  Enjoy our products and have an Udderly Delightful day!!”

What is remarkable about Marcia is that she does it all.  She milks the goats, she makes the soap and other products, she prints her own labels and does her own packaging and she runs the store.  The day we visited we were the only customers.  This allowed us plenty of time to get to know this remarkable lady.  She gave us a tour of this old house that is her store.  It still has the original 1920’s kitchen with the original refrigerator and stove that still work.


Adventures of Krystonia

February 14, 2003 – Happy Valentines Day!

Greetings from Van Horn, TX; about 140 miles southwest of El Paso.   (photo attached) We are now in the Central Time Zone, two hours ahead of all you on the west coast.  We have been traveling with Arlo’s cousin Ted and his wife Bev since Quartzsite.  When we left El Paso this morning, they headed north to Carlsbad Caverns and we went southwest toward Big Bend National Park.  While in El Paso we spent a day in Juarez, Mexico and had a nice visit (and great Mexican dinner) with our mutual cousin Sid and his wife Terry.  They are from Seattle but are enjoying all the sun and golf days here.  They both teach at University of Texas, El Paso.

The biggest surprise for us was the Rio Grande River.  It was a great disappointment.  It is barely a trickle, some places between El Paso and Juarez it runs through a cement culvert.  This river is so romanticized in our folk literature that we really expected more.  Maybe it will have more surface water in Big Bend.

Kartchner Caverns State Park – No cameras allowed in the caverns.  For pictures check their web site – link from <www.azstateparks,com>

I never reported on our tour of Kartchner Caverns State Park.  So I will do that now.  They are located just south of Tucson, AZ. The story of these caverns is remarkable and heartwarming.  In November 1974 two young cavers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, were exploring the limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains.  In the bottom of a sinkhole they found a narrow crack leading into the hillside.  After several hours of crawling they entered a pristine cavern. 

It wasn’t until February 1978 that Tenen and Tufts told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about their amazing discovery.

During the four years of secret exploration, the discoverers realized that the cave’s extraordinary variety of colors and formations must be preserved.

The cave’s existence became public knowledge in 1988 when its purchase was approved as an Arizona State Park.  Extraordinary precautions have been taken during its development to conserve the cave’s near-pristine condition.  You must pass through a double air-lock going in and out.  Tours are restricted and well controlled.  They even clean up all the left human debris, i.e., dead skin, hair, etc each night after the last tour.

This is on our MUST DO list, if you are ever in Southern AZ.  They haven’t yet opened up the large cavern to the public.  When they do, we plan to come back.


Adventures of Krystonia

Survival after September 11, 2001, or
Border Peek-A-Boo

This is the story of Vicente.  Vicente lives in Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.  Boquillas is located just across the Rio Grande River from the Rio Grande Village at Big Bend National Park, Texas.  It is many miles on dirt roads from any other Mexican town.  In the late 1800's it was a flourishing silver and copper mining town.  The population was over 3000.  When the mines dried up people moved out.  Today the population is about 150.  Before 9/11, American tourists visiting Big Bend NP were able to take a boat across the river and visit Boquillas.  Now the Border Patrol has put a stop to any crossings.

American tourists were a large contributor to the economy in Boquillas.  Vicente was the boatman who took folks across and back.  He used the income to support his family of five children.  Changing economic conditions require adaptation to survive.   I will get back to his solution later.

In Big Bend NP there is a spot where the Rio Grande has carved a deep canyon out of the cliff.  This is called the Boquillas Canyon and is just downstream from Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.  The Park has installed a trail that leads to the entrance to the canyon. The trail runs along side the Rio Grande on the US side prior to coming to the canyon entrance.  As we walked down the trail we encountered a Border Patrol Officer coming back.  He told us about Vicente.  He explained that he had disappeared when he saw the Officer, but would be back.  Sure enough, as we were returning, Vicente called out to us from the other side.

Vicente is selling hand carved and painted walking sticks.  He is willing to wade across the river to make a sale, but is always on the alert for the Border Patrol.  "I don't want to go to prison; I have to support my five children."  Now Vicente supports his family playing peek-a-boo with the US Border Patrol.


Adventures of Krystonia

February 18, 2003

We are in Fort Davis, TX.  If you have a map it is about 35 miles North West of Alpine, TX.  Our compass is reading mostly west beginning this morning.   We have turned the corner and are heading home.  This morning we left Big Bend National Park.

Big Bend NP is on our “Places to Return To” list.  In Big Bend NP all roads end at the Rio Grande, the boundary between US and Mexico.  Many of the park’s famous, expansive vistas mix scenes belonging to both nations.  It is a Park about a river; the name Big Bend refers to the great U-turn the Rio Grande makes in Southwest Texas.  The river is an arcing linear oasis, a ribbon of green across the dry desert and cutting through its mountains.  It is a Park about the desert; North America has four deserts: Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan.  Big Bend NP lies in the northern one third of the Chihuahuan Desert.  It is a park about the mountains; the Chisos Mountains interrupt as a green island in a desert sea.

Big Bend NP is the least visited NP in the US, probably because of it’s out of the way location.  After looking at the pictures, don’t tell anyone.  Let’s keep it as an undiscovered wonderland.

A note from Hobbes – In the campground at Rio Grande Village I made new friends (through the window of course) that came rummaging through our campsite.  They looked and sounded like pigs, but they are called Javelina (Pecary).  Travel can be so educational.


Adventures of Krystonia

February 22, 2003

After leaving Socorro, New Mexico, Highway 60 west climbs up to the Plains of San Agustin which is high, flat desert.  Elevations are above 7,000 feet for miles and miles.  About 100 miles west of Socorro, you come to Pie Town, New Mexico.  Pie Town with a population of about 65, has two restaurants, a Post Office (see picture) and a school.  The K through 12 school draws students from as far as 40 miles.  It is high desert with little vegetation and this time of year, strong winds – “hold on to the door when you open it.”  The first restaurant you come to going west is named Pie-O-Neer (see picture).  It was about noon, so after lunch in Krystonia and a break for Hobbes we ventured into Pie-O-Neer to check out the pie.  Apple-Cranberry for Ruth and Crusty Cherry for Arlo – alamode – was the perfect dessert in the desert.  Turns out that this restaurant is of some fame.  It has been featured on the Food Channel and in Sunset Magazine.  The “Pie Lady” according to her personalized plate on the 4X4 truck out front, is a transplant from Chicago.  She has owned the Pie-O-Neer for six years.  “I would never move back to Chicago!”

About 30 miles before you get to Pie Town is the National Radio Astronomy Observatory or Very Large Array (VLA).  www.nrao.edu/. This seldom visited place about 4 miles off Highway 60 is worth the stop.  They have a small visitor’s center, which provides exhibits, a digital show and a self guided tour.  It consists of 27 dish-shaped antennas that are connected together to form a single large radio telescope.  Each antenna weighs 230 tons and is the size of a baseball diamond.  They are distributed along railroad tracks arranged in a Y-shape.  Two branches of the Y are about 13 miles long; the other is more than 11 miles long.  (see picture) Much of Carl Sagan’s movie “Contact” was filmed at this location.

We are in Springerville, AZ tonight.  Tomorrow we go north to Interstate 40 via Petrified Forest National Park and then west.


Adventures of Krystonia

I love Sedona, AZ.  Yes it is touristy, but is in such a beautiful setting.  Surrounded by “red rock” hills and buttes, it is a magical place.  (see picture) And it has some wonderful art galleries.

Greetings from Page Springs, AZ.  It is just off interstate 17, about 40 miles south of Flagstaff or 100 miles north of Phoenix.  We are very close to Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.  If you have been following the weather you know we are in the middle of a winter storm.  Last night Flagstaff got about 12 inches of snow, and is expecting more through the day and tonight.  Today we had the very special experience of driving through Oak Creek Canyon following and during a snow storm.  It was glorious.  (see picture)  The snow covered the trees and rocks making a new Currier and Ives view around every corner.  When we next visit, ask to see the rest of the pictures.

We leave in the morning.  All this beauty has its downside.  We had planned to get on Interstate 40 in Flagstaff for our trip home.  Now we will go south to catch Interstate 10.  Tomorrow night we will be in Earp, CA on the Colorado River, and back into our home time zone.


Adventures of Krystonia

We arrived home on March 4th.

Parting Thoughts: We have found if you stay off the Interstate system and away from the large cities, that there is an America without Wall-Mart, K-Mart or Target; without Home Depot or Office Depot; without Burger King, Taco Bell or McDonalds. After 46 nights out, with nearly 4000 miles in Krystonia, plus an additional 1700 miles in side trips in the truck, we have learned that Calvin's advice to Hobbes in the final cartoon strip has merit. He said, "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy.. let's go exploring!" From goat soap stores in out of the way ghost towns to wineries in places you would never expect, from pie shops on the top of windy mountains to interesting folks who have stories to tell; there still are wonderful places to enjoy the diversity of our country.

Future Plans: We will be leaving the end of the month with Chris and Liz to spend four weeks in Baja California, Mexico. Do not expect Adventures of Krystonia from this trip. There will be no cell phone service, and probably few if any data ports. From what I am reading even "good" electricity may be scarce. We may write something about the trip to send out on our return. For sure I will be taking pictures.

In early Fall we will be taking old Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago. From there we will go to Milwaukee to visit Arlo's sister and wait for the New England Fall Colors. Probably we will get as far north as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada. From there we will go south down the East Coast and skirt the early winter storms, taking the southern routes home. Watch for "Adventures of Krystonia" and pictures from this trip.

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