Benson Arizona

On our way to Escapade we were very excited to return to the Benson Arizona area. Benson is along I-10 in the southeastern part of the state. It’s  along the busy Union Pacific railroad line and Amtrak’s Sunset Limited stops here.   Its a great base to explore Tombstone, Bisbee, Cochise Stronghold, Chiricahau National Monument, Kartchner Caverns and more.

Tombstone is the “town too tough to die” and famous for the “gunfight at the OK corrall”.  Today its mostly a tourist town with re-enactments, stage coach rides, saloons and gift shops.  The old courthouse still stands as a museum complete with the hanging gallows.

Classic Western Tombstone

The Earp Brothers

Tombstone Courthouse

Bisbee is the county seat of Cochise County and once a booming copper town.  We toured the Historical Museum and the Copper Queen Hotel.  There is a thriving arts community and nice collection of shops and restaurants.  The huge Lavender Pit copper mine sits idle at the edge of town.  One of our favorite authors, J.A. Jance, writes many mystery novels centered around Bisbee.  We always enjoy exploring areas where novels are based.

Bisbee – The Copper Town

Lavender Pit
copper mine

Fairbank is an abandoned or ghost town between Bisbee and Benson.  It was once a thriving community with a railline that served Tombstone.  Now just a few buildings remain including a restored schoolhouse.  There is a short hike to the old cemetery.  

Fairbank Arizona
ghost town

Fairbank cemetery

Gleeson and Pierce are two more ghost towns we found in this area.  Oh the stories they could tell.

Throughout this area the landscapes are spectacular.

Southeastern Arizona landscape

 

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Saguaro National Park

Tucson Arizona has a lot to offer and it was a major goal of our Southwestern trip.  On the outskirts of Tucson is a surprisingly lush and diverse land.  

Giant Saguaro welcome you to the park

Young Saguaro

A rare crested form of Saguaro

Saguaro National Park protects an area of Sonoran Desert that is filled with native plants and animals. Chief among these are the saguaro cactus. The saguaro cactus is the symbol of this desert and of Arizona. They are fascinating in their endless varied shapes and sizes. They live a long 150 or more years.  50 to 70 years before they produce an arm. They swell and contract with the rain or drought. They are home to specialized birds. Their wood has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.  Their fruit is still used by the native Tohono O’odham people.  The Saguaro usually die of old age but are threatened by loss of habitat and invasive species.

The park offers a one-way loop road and many hikes off that road. We went on a weekday and early as the park gets crowded with limited parking. We found beautiful hiking at Mesa View Trail, Loma Verde Trail and Javelina Rocks.

People of the Hohokam left petroglyphs within the park between 450 and 1450 CE.  Spaniards arrived in the 1500s.  Arizona became a US Territory in 1854 and a state in 1912.  The park was established in 1933 as a national monument.  From 1933 to 1942 the CCC built roads, picnic areas and water control dams in the park.  Then in 1994 Saguaro became a National Park.

 

 

 

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Big Bend National Park

Located along the southern border with Mexico Big Bend National Park has been on our list for years.  Its about 100 miles from the nearest east-west highway US 90.  Further from Interstate 10.  It’s a place of very little development.  A place of dark nights, can be cold in the winter and very hot in the summer.  It’s a park featuring the Rio Grand River, the Chihauhuan desert and the Chisos Mountains.  And its a huge park, bigger than Rhode Island.  It is beautiful.

The day we arrived was cold.  At Boquillas overlook we saw crafts from Mexican vendors who we were told have an agreement with US Customs to sell in the park and cross the river to collect dollars from tourists.  Their crafts are simple and unique and sell well.  That first day we visited the hot springs but it was far too cold for us to get in.

Mexican crafts for sale

Langford Hot Springs

We hiked the Santa Elena Canyon trail, the Window trail and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature trail and the Rio Grande Village Nature trail.  The only RV park with hookups is in Rio Grande Village and it’s small and mostly booked.  We stayed 2 nights before moving to the NPS campground.  Unfortunately we had a flat tire on the motorhome.  Our campground hosts, Ray and Mary Ann were fantastic in helping us resolve that situation. The park service is so lucky to have volunteers like these folks.

The Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

The Window Trail

Window Trail

Window Trail

The Window

The Chisos Mountains

Adjacent to the national park is Big Bend Ranch State Park.  We had a nice tour and picnic the day we visited.

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Tepee picnic area

We had a great visit to Big Bend.  The Bluebonnets were in “super bloom”.  The weather was variable yet moderate.  There is so much more to see and do in the park we know we’ll be back.

The Mule Ears

Big Bend Bluebonnets

or Texas Bluebonnets

Roadrunners kill rattlesnakes

Sierra del Carmen at sunset

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Alpine Texas

Alpine TX is the hub for visitors to Big Bend National Park and a nice town on its own.  As with most cities in the West it started out as a railroad town.  We found an old South Orient RR depot as well as a modern Amtrak Depot, a very active Union Pacific freight line and plenty of homage to its rail history.

Historic South Orient Railroad depot

Modern Amtrak depot

UP freight passing thru

Part of a mural in Alpine

Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited was the passenger train from LA to New Orleans

Romantic mural in Alpine

Beautiful alley on Murphy St

Alpine has many galleries and eclectic shops

Freezing fog the morning we left

 

 

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Escapade

We recently attended the Escapees RV community’s 59th Escapade Rally in Tucson Arizona. It was our first RV rally and we had a good time. We met friends Paul and Kay and Martie and Filbert there and got to know many others while attending.The Escapade featured 4 days of seminars, live entertainment, an abundance of info tables, a vendor area and plenty of coffee and doughnuts. We learned about legal challenges to the RV lifestyle as well as practical solutions to everyday hurdles. We learned about volunteer opportunities with HistoriCorps restoring old buildings. We learned the latest in CPR training.

Since the rally started on St. Patricks Day it was appropriate that the Celtic band “American Rogues” was the opening night show. They were awesome with lots of bagpipes and bohdran. The closing Farewell Fiesta was entertained by “No Reply Tucson” a hard driving rock band. There was lots of dancing to the Beatles, Stones. Doobie Bros, CCR and lots more. Great fun finale!

Over 900 RVs stayed at the Pima County Fairgrounds. More than 1600 RVers attended. Randy won First Place in the Southwest History category during the second annual Escapade Photo Contest.

 

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South Texas

There are really only three places full time RVers typically spend the winter.  These are Florida, Arizona and extreme south Texas.  We have spent most every winter of our lives in Florida and a little time in Arizona but never Texas.  So we left sunny warm Florida and headed west to Harlingen Texas and Tropic Winds RV Park there.

The park itself is very nice with paved wide sites, a large main hall, pickleball courts, wood shop, fitness center and pool.  The park offers live music concerts coordinated with several other parks in the area.  Musical acts included tribute bands to The Beatles, Rolling Stones, ABBA, Buddy Holly, Billy Joel/Elton John and Jimmy Buffett.  Lots of other shows keep everybody entertained.  Most of our neighbors have been spending winters in the area for years.

South Padre Island is a popular beach location on the Gulf of Mexico.  The day we visited there was a red flag warning for high winds and a blue flag for Portuguese Man-O-War on the beach.

Famous So. Padre Island

The entire area is bounded on the southwest by the Rio Grande River and Matamoros Mexico.  Brownsville has a lot of history.  We visited the Museum of History housed in the old Southern Pacific Depot.  The beautiful locomotive No. 1 was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works and is the last of its kind in the world.  The huge MAN motorcar was reputedly built for Mexican President Porfirio Diaz although there is no record of its construction.

1928 Southern Pacific Depot

Locomotive No. 1 built in 1872

German MAN built car for Porfirio Diaz

Historic Market Square (1850)

The same day we visited historic Ft. Brown now part of Texas Southmost College.  Many buildings of the fort are preserved including the Quartermasters Residence, Post Hospital and Morgue where Dr. Gorgas did important work to end the scourge of Yellow Fever.  The fort was active during the Mexican War, the Civil War, the era of Buffalo Soldiers, Pancho Vila and World War I.  It was interesting to learn that Brownsville was a major port of export for the Confederacy which provided revenue to sustain the Civil War.  A successful Union blockade here could have ended the war much sooner.  The last land battle of the Civil War was fought near here weeks after the surrender at Appomattox.

Ft. Brown Quartermaster’s House

Ft. Brown’s Gorgas Hall

The Morgue

The National Butterfly Center is located right on the river near Mission TX.  The proposed wall would have a huge negative effect on this valuable private preserve as many migrating butterflies and birds do not possess the native abilities to traverse a tall barrier.  The director of the preserve has been a vigorous opponent to The Wall.  We found the 100 acre preserve to be a fascinating place to visit with beautiful butterflies and birds on this vital stop on the migratory flyway.  Hundreds of species of birds and butterflies pass thru annually.

The National Butterfly Center

Green Jay

Altamira Oriole

Plain Chachalaca

Special thanks to David and Kathryn for their hospitality at their Texas ranchero before they move to Durango.

 

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The Royal Palm Railway Experience

We visited the newest incarnation of the Mt. Dora Florida Railway.  The new operator on these tracks is the Orlando & Northwestern Railway offering The Royal Palm Railway Experience on the Golden Triangle Route from Mt. Dora to Tavares to Eustis, Florida.  These three small cities are each about 8 miles apart and run on tracks first built by various railroads in the 1880s.  These railroads all became part of the Seaboard Coast Line RR in the 1960s.  When Seaboard became part of the huge CSX Railroad these small short lines were divested and became part of the Florida Central Railroad.  Many operators have run tourist trains in the area.  Among these were a doodlebug and a steam train before the current trains powered by diesel locomotives pulling wonderfully restored passenger cars.  The ride is smooth, quiet and air conditioned and slow.  On weekends there are lots of different offerings in addition to coach rides.  There are dinner trains, murder mystery trains, wine trains, rails and ales, etc.  Something for everyone and the week we went many were sold out.  We are always happy to see tourist trains and rail history supported by the public.

Tavares Depot

Mt. Dora’s Lakeside Inn

Lake Dora’s damaged pier

Lake Dora beach

Tavares’ Lake Harris

 

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