Campground: The Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA) the Empire Ranch. Dry Camping, Free, no hookups. 6+ sites available. 23 over-the-air Tv stations and good Verizon cell-phone service.
Distance Traveled: 55 miles
An appointment for the truck to have some regular maintenance done on it before the travel season begins ended up with the mechanic punching a hole in the radiator which cost the shop $700 to replace it. After getting the truck back, I noticed they had not fixed the leak in the windshield washer hose and I had to bring it back in. Turned out they were able to fix it in the 45 minutes that I went out for breakfast. Came back, the washer was fixed and they told me, no charge since they had messed up twice. Don’t worry, they still got plenty of money from me for the basic truck maintenance I had done a few days earlier.
My wonderful Rv neighbors had a super nice going away party the other night. It’s a ritual that as friends leave, a party is given for each Rv exit. The evening temperatures were very mild and the camp fire wasn’t lit until well after dark. The saddest part of the Rv lifestyle is leaving ones friends behind. I keep mentioning a year long caravan across country but no takers yet.
|just one shot of me is enough|
|Dave's new shoes, wowee|
|Abbey is always a part of every party|
So here we are, packing up the chairs, outdoor rugs, a few live plants get secured inside the camper, a final organizing and cleaning of the camper before closing the slides, unhooking the electric, sewer and water hoses. The truck gets backed up to the camper and the hitch is connected for the first outing of the season. The stabilizer jacks are raised and I’m ready to do my usual walk around the camper and truck before pulling out. I do the walk around three times, as I have often caught something I needed to secure or fix before pulling out.
I’m driving down to the BLM land just down the street, parking the camper and hitching a ride with friends for one last buffet lunch at the Del Sol Casino. Mondays is senior day and we like taking advantage of the half off price, $7.95 buffet. This has got to be the slowest exit I have ever made.
On the Road:
Monday, 3/13/2016, 1pm: I’m officially on the road again. Having only traveled the two miles to the BLM land, I’m finally out on the road heading towards the Empire Ranch, all of 55 miles down the road. After enduring Tucson’s poorly maintained roads, it was a pleasure to get onto Interstate 10. It was so smooth I was doing a happy dance while cruising along.
|The Empire Ranch|
The Empire Ranch is now part of a conservation area of natural high desert grass lands. It’s still a working cattle ranch and the original homestead is open to the public for self guided tours. Going from a 160 acre ranch it eventually grew to over one million acres.
My campsite is on a slight rise of bleached out grassland with black mesquite trees dotting the landscape. A few other campers arrived shortly after I set up. As the sun sets, the nice afternoon breeze begins to die down and all is quiet. I am far enough into the ranch that there is no road traffic noise, and a silence and stillness fills the air.
As the sky turns inky black the stars shine so bright you’d think they were in high definition, HD. The air is so devoid of pollution making the stars seem closer and brighter than I’ve ever seen them before.
|the second home built, a ranch house|
|one of the additions to the original main house|
|part of the original adobe house|
|part of the updated kitchen|
|bay window added as a wedding present to the owners new bride|
Just a few miles south of the Empire Ranch the towns of Sonoita and Elgin are wine country with 11 wineries in the area. Three or four small local restaurants, one gas station and a small grocery store fill the cross roads surrounded by those high prairie cattle grass lands. Tombstone is 30 minutes away and I’ve discovered there are a half a dozen small ghost towns one can explore off of the dirt roads in the area.
I headed back to Tombstone to see the historic Bird Cage Theater. Along the way I stopped by the ghost town, Fairbank. A collection of adobe and wood buildings left behind after the silver/smelting era ended. Not a lot to explore, but worth a short stop to investigate.
|Fairbank, Ghost town|
|Fairbank, ghost town|
I really enjoyed the self guided tour of the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone. It’s one of the few remaining “intact” historical buildings from 1881. This is where Sheriff Wyatt Earp met Shady Sadie one of the Ladies of ill fame. As the sheriff, he signed her license as a prostitute, eventually left his common law wife and married Sadie. Over 120 bullet holes are lodged in the theater, bar, gambling hall and 26 people were killed inside the establishment. Open for only eight years, it was considered the “wildest and meanest” place in town. I really enjoyed reading all the placards describing the sordid and scandalous life (and death) that filled this building. The 14 bird cage cribs those are the private box seats overlooking the main floor and stage inspired the song “Bird in a Gilded Cage”. The ladies of the evening would invite a gentleman up to their “crib” to watch the show, have a few drinks and eventually the curtains would be drawn….
The Bird Cage Theater
Gambling would take place with high stakes games being played in the room under the stage. Entry to a poker game was $1,000. High stakes back in the late 1880’s. The building was closed in 1892 and remained untouched for 42 years before being purchased and reopened as a tourist attraction and historical site with almost everything still intact.
|a real treat to see an historical bldg so intact|
|the bird cage "cribs", private boxed seating overlooking the theatre|
|impressive size stage|
|the bird cage theater, all original|
|gambling room below the stage, $1,000 poker entry fee|
|Tombstone, very touristy|
|I'm already looking for my next adventure|
Not all adventures turn out as planned. Good friends Tom and Christine came down from Tucson to see my primitive campsite and tour around with me. After seeing the Empire Ranch buildings, we headed to Ft Huachuca to visit two of their museums on the Army base. After signing in and filling out Government forms to get access to the base, Tom and Chris were turned down because they had Washington drivers licenses. Could it be they were classified as hippie type free thinkers since they come from a state that now permit’s the use of marijuana? Actually it had something to do with not have the newly required U.S. Government approved drivers licenses… Onto plan B, we headed for the small hamlet of Huachuca and found Ray’s Internet café inside of an antique/thrift store mall. Good food and coffee bar and a chance to browse for stuff no one needs but just would like to have. No one bought anything, but fun to look at all the stuff people collect before putting it back on the market for sale.
|Pronghorn, thanks to Christine's eagle eye|
|5 miles of dirt road leading up to the Kentucky Camp|
On one of my last days in the area, I drove over to the Kentucky Camp which is across the highway from the Empire ranch. The Kentucky Camp was once a gold mining operation and is now a part of the Forest Service. They’ve rebuilt a couple of the original Adobe structures and one of them is available for rent. The main house and center of the gold mining operation has been restored and is the location of the self guided tour/info. It was a cool 5 mile drive along winding dirt roads, some through private property. The camp sites in a gulch. Many Off road vehicles like to travel through this area and there is a fair amount of dispersed campsites along two of the roads.
|road leading down into the Kentucky Camp|
|cabin available for rent|
|Iris came back after years of laying dormant|
|care takers trailer|
|partially restored adobe cabin|
more photos on my PICASA photos
Next stop, Wilcox for a day or two (high winds) before heading into southern New Mexico