Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014-34 Douglas to Benson Arizona (FINAL REPORT OF THE SEASON)

Gammon Gulch Movie Set

Douglas Arizona
Benson Arizona
Tucson Arizona (winter season at Desert Trails)

Douglas to Benson to Tucson AZ

Cochise Fairgrounds
Campground:  Cochise County Fair Association, 3677 N. Leslie Canyon Road, Douglas, AZ  85607, (520) 364-3819.  Electric/water 30 amp $15.  Nice fairgrounds, many grassy areas for camping, but sites are not well defined and it’s difficult to get into the fairgrounds (gate in very narrow) Not recommended especially for larger Rv’s.  One over-the-air TV station (Spanish). Excellent 4G cell service.

Campground info:  The Douglas Golf Course has camping spots available for $16 a night.  They are much easier to get into and I think folks would like it better than the Fairgrounds where I’m currently staying. The golf course campsites are both back-in and pull-thru.  One of the treats would be that your able to walk the golf greens after hours…. Cool.

Red Barn Rv
Campground:  Red Barn Campground, 711 N. Madison, Benson, AZ 85602 Local: (520) 586-2035
PA rate: $10.32 - $10.82* ($14.91 w/taxes etc.)  Full Hookups. Two over-the-air Tv stations in English. Next to I-10, very noisy truck traffic, including trains throughout the night.

Campground:  Desert Trails Rv Park, Tucson AZ.  $510 monthly rate, includes full hookup and electric. Lots of activities, clubs and weekly entertainment.  My Winter Residence this year.

Distance Traveled:  170 miles
Douglas AZ

I headed out early this morning to hopefully get to my destination before the winds get too breezy.  It was a 3 hour trip and I took a new route I’d never been on in Arizona.  From the New Mexico/Arizona border, I headed south on hwy 80 eventually crossing over into Arizona.  It was a whole new set of mountain ranges the Chiricahua mountains and desert. Hwy 80 is a lonely two lane road with very little traffic along it’s corridor.  Rv-ers should note that the many bridges over shallow washes are narrow, so care should be taken with any oncoming traffic, other than that it’s a breeze.  Speaking of breeze, the wind did pick up about 40 minutes before I arrived in Douglas, but the camper did not sway at all since it was a straight on head wind.  Along the way I pass through the smallest of towns consisting of two or three weather beaten buildings, a desert museum out in the middle of nowhere, a small airport out in the desert (why) and one Rv park, miles from nowhere.

I did visit the national monument later in the week

Well I finally made it to Douglas Arizona.  Having been coming out west for years, it’s always been on my secondary bucket list only because it’s named after me, or am I named after the town.   It’s close to the town of Bisbee an old mining town where the most gold and copper ever came out of a U.S. mining area.  I’d traveled to Bisbee with good friends Tom and Christine a couple years back but they wouldn’t take me to Douglas.  Well ok, we completely ran out of time and since I made it here on my own, they are off the hook.

One of the largest Tiffany landscape windows in the country

Pancho Villa road a horse up the marble stairs

Gadsden Hotel

I took a drive up to White Water Draw Wildlife Refuge in search of a flock of Sand Hill Cranes.  They haven’t shown up yet.  Oh well, it was a nice drive through the desert to the ponds and wetlands.  Other birds were there, but not the big dramatic Sand Hill Cranes.  They must have gotten delayed, much like my wanderings have been this season.  I did drive back to McNeal, where there were signs of a former ghost town called Webb but it was not easy to locate as the small community of McNeal has swallowed it up.  I did stop in the bright yellow colored gas station, one of only two independent gas stations remaining in Arizona.  They don’t accept anything except cash.  Had an interesting conversation with the owner, John, a former cop for Chicago.  The building was originally a hanger at the airport.  John owns a large electric generating windmill, but the power company won’t take any more of his electricity, says it produces too much and they can’t use it.  Hmmm

White Water Draw

Bisbee AZ

The next day it was time for a drive to Bisbee a once thriving gold and copper mining town and now an artist colony.  It’s only about 22 miles from Douglas, a pleasant drive except for the numerous cars that were in such a hurry to get somewhere that they were passing everyone on the road.  Not particularly safe on a two lane road.  Time to turn the headlights on (I also have the daylights) for safety’s sake.  Coming into town from the south end, the strip mines are visible, including some unusual large round towers on pillars.  Not sure what they were once used for.  Something to do with the mining efforts I’m sure.

the coffee shop

My first goal was to find a parking spot and maybe get a great cup of coffee.  They have two coffee roasters in town.  Where did I end up?  At a small Vegan Coffee shop off of Brewery Ave.  Filled with hippies of the newer generation.  The place smelled awful.  Some kind of vegetable stew was simmering on the burners and filled the air with a most pungent odor.  The workers all had various piercing.  From big hollow hoops in their ears, to one young man that had a wire connected to one ear running through his nose, out the other side to the other ear.  Really.  On an upper level of seating sat a big guy with blond “corn rolls” tied up on top of his head like a stack of corn husks.  He was wearing dirty clothes with a sarong that hadn’t been washed in weeks by the looks of it and had a few holes in it as well.  When he walked up to the counter for another cup of coffee, I noticed he had no shoes on his large pudgy feet.  I left shortly after that.

images of Bisbee


Copper Queen Hotel

main street Bisbeee

The Art Furniture store

what a cutie, loved her blue hair

no longer operational

It’s not surprising the number of shops and art studios in this town and the many houses that cling to the sides of the steep hills at a ton of character ensuring that the artist crowd would be drawn here.  Most of the shops weren’t opened when I first started my walk around town, or should I say up town as the road wound it’s way up and up through the surrounding mountains.  Which was fine with me as it gave me time to take pictures without tons of vehicles and people filling the streets and sidewalks.  There are so many artist shops, but I’ll mention two I went into.  The first called Art Home, has some of the most beautiful hand made painted furniture I’ve seen.  They also specialized in lighted signs and vintage looking toys at very reasonable prices.  Wish I had room for some of it, as I would love to have many of their pieces.  The next studio I went into is called Belleza Fine Art Gallery and is run as a non-profit to help support a women’s recovery house where women coming off of drugs etc, are taught skills in making furniture and other things.  The gal running the shop that day, Debbie L, has bright blue hair, that is just stunning.  It fit her personality perfectly.  She plays the ukulele and teaches it at the community college.  We had a great talk as I walked around admiring some great art pieces.  As an example of one of the artists works, the painter decoupages pages of Zane Grey novels onto the canvas and then paints horses over it.  Beautiful work.  Another artist down the street cuts out sculptural scenes of the desert from metal sheets and paints them with bright high gloss colors.  So much talent at one end of the spectrum and so many on the lower end of homeless poverty spectrum.  A couple of great antique stores as well.  Great way to spend a day just wandering the streets and shops, stopping for a bite to eat, and talking to strangers.

Back in Douglas, I learn more about the history of this border town and visit the Gadsden Hotel with it’s grand lobby and Tiffany landscape windows portraying the beautiful desert scenes in the area.  They must be worth in the millions of dollars today.  It’s said that Pancho Villa road a horse up and down the grand staircase and they even have a few chipped marble steps to prove it.  The hotel is said to be haunted, has hosted many famous guests and has been the setting in a number of movies.

I have not crossed the border into Mexico this time.  The town across the border is Agua Prieta Sonora.  It has grown from 37,000 to over 110,000 in population since the signing of the North American Trade Agreement in 1993.  Many foreign manufacturing and assembly plants have been built along the boarder. Unemployment is high around 30% in Agua Prieta with so many Mexicans migrating here in search of jobs.  The average salary is around $515 U.S. dollars per month.  This is also the town that had the killing of a major drug lord a year ago and after that there were killings and shooting almost nightly.  Even though it has calmed down as of this writing, I didn’t feel comfortable walking across the border at this location.

The population of Douglas AZ is 16,915.  27% of the population speak English and 70% speak Spanish.  Average income is between $13-16,000 per person per year.  Unemployment is at 7.5%.   So definitely one of the poorer communities in Arizona.  The people are friendly and easily start up a conversation with strangers/tourists.

Distance Traveled:  74 miles
Benson AZ

Hook up the camper, pull through the gate at the Fairgrounds (no employees here on weekends), lock the gate behind me and I’m off.  My GPS gave me a couple different options as to routes, I chose one and off into the desert I go.  The occasional cotton, corn or hay growing farms.  You know the ones that use those irrigation wheels creating big circular patches of green.  My short trip lands me in Benson Az, not all that far from my final destination of Tucson.  But as often happens, we travelers don’t always go back to an area to tour, so I thought I’d make it a stop over to do a bit of touring before landing in Tucson for the winter.

Tours in the area:

Kartchner Caverns State Park
Amerind Museum
Gammons Gulch Movie Set
Singing Wind Bookshop
Birding, viewing

Benson has 14 Rv parks for a small town of only 5,100 people.  Some great monthly rates in the $280-$350 range (high season).

So the first place I went to visit was Gammons Gulch Movie Set.  Jay Gammon the owner was our tour guide.  As a young boy, he would accompany his father on movie sets, where his dad was either an extra in the movie, or was like a body guard for one of the actors.  After growing up and doing a couple of odd jobs, he was drawn back into the movie business and started his own western themed movie set out here in Benson Az.  As he tells it, not many of the locals had any faith in him, but today, his western town movie set has been used in a half dozen or move movies and tv productions.  The guy has some great stories to tell and is not afraid to tell which actors were good to work for and which ones were a pain in the you know what.  Paul Newman was great and talked to everyone on the set, Steve McQueen was a pain…. Had a great time taking pictures and learning about the movie business from someone who’s worked in it.

Jay Gammon

The next day I drove a short distance to Kartchner Caverns State Park.  The caverns were first discovered and explored by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen in 1974.  Both college students at the time, they were looking for a cave that no one had discovered, wanting to be the first to see a cave for the first time.  Discovering it was on private land, they went to the owners, the Kartchner’s and told them of the discovery.  It was all kept secret to protect the caves until the Arizona State parks eventually were brought in and purchased it.  It was opened in 1999 and the lower caves (The Big Room) were opened in 2003.  Kind of exciting to see caves that until recently were unknown to the world.  No photography is permitted in the caves, both cameras and cell phones are banned.  It’s the first time I’ve visited a cave where photography was not permitted, but in the end that made for a much more enjoyable experience.  The state parks system has done a superb job of creating handicap accessible access to the caves with concrete pathways throughout and a tram to take the visitors up to the caves entrance.  I’d have to say, it was easily one of the top 4 cave tours I’ve ever taken.  I’ll provide a couple links so you might see a bit of the interior and learn more about it.  In the largest cave, a special presentation was made that was inspirational and dramatic.  Thanks AZ state parks for creating a 1st class presentation.

My last day on the road, I traveled to Texas Canyon and the Amerind Foundations museum and research center, studying the American Indians, North, South and Central American.  Though they have stopped funding any archeological digs, they continue to do research through the various findings already unearthed, and materials written about those digs.  I would have liked a tour guide, but you have to ask for that ahead of time.  Absolutely no photos are permitted inside so I was only able to take outside shots of the Texas Canyon landscape, which is quite dramatic.  They also have a two story art gallery with rotating exhibits, much of the paintings on the first floor were for sale.  Once again, no photography.  I had many questions, but the staff sitting up front were on little to no help and though they have presentations throughout the year, they appear to be mainly crafting exhibitions and talks, nothing to do with the extensive research that has gone on, or is ongoing today.

Texas Canyon

Amerind Foundation

My very last stop was to an SKP Rv park.  They are privately owned co-op Rv parks under the umbrella of the Escapee’s camping club.  I asked for a tour and what a tour it was.  Cosmos, who is a former rocket scientist, gave me the super duper tour including every closet, room, bulletin board, how they sort their recyclables, to where Rv’s are stored, you name it, I got the tour of the place.  He and his wife have a motor home but have purchased an Rv lot leased site with a park model, casita (small out building) that contains a patio, room for sleep over guests, a full kitchen, extra bathroom, laundry facilities and game room.  They travel with their motor home to a place up north each summer and close up the place here in Benson.  The rental structure is very complicated so I won’t try to explain it here.  I was figuring it out that for full time campers, Cosmo and his wife own three kitchens, three bathrooms, three bedrooms, and have to maintain that property in Benson as well as the motor home.  It was all very overwhelming to me and though the place was very large, it appeared they basically have a fair amount of breakfast and dinners together, a few knitting classes, a craft class, computer class and pool tournaments.  Oh, and bingo.  Entertainment is centered around the major holidays and they have a whole storage room for the volunteers to use to decorate park for each holiday.  Committees run every aspect of the place as well.

SKP park front office

Well, that’s my report for the season, enjoy your winter, as it seems to have already occurred most everywhere and here it is only November.  Till the travel season begins again next spring, Safe travels to everyone, I’ll miss having you along on my rambling journeys till then.

Lots of photos on PICASA

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