Thursday, February 14, 2008


FEBRUARY 1 – 6, 2008


A new month, a new state. After saying goodbye to Doris, Larry, Marcia, Edwin and Debbie, Ripley and I departed westward on Highway 10, stopping on the way at Steins, the site of a railroad ghost town mentioned in the Old West Highway Guide. It was built in 1858 to serve as a Butterfield Stage Station. However, when I arrived, I was disappointed to find a “Closed” sign. I did manage to take a few photos from the other side of the fence, but it would have been great to have been able to wander through the ten buildings that hold authentic furnishings and artifacts.


I have long considered Arizona my favourite state, having visited here three or four times in the past, but always by car, and only for a few days or a week at most. This time I was determined to spend more time exploring some of the more remote areas, starting with the southeastern part of the state. I am fascinated not only by the different habitats within the small state, but also the archeological record of many peoples who have lived here in the past.

My route took me very close to the Mexico border where the Border Patrol continues to stop illegal immigrants who have managed to get across.

Much to my surprise, the speed limit in this area is 75 miles an hour. I usually travel at 55 miles per hour.


Willcox had a Visitor Center, and I stopped to see what I could find about the region. I recall seeing Rex Allen in western movies as a child. He was born in Willcox in 1920, and after gaining stardom as both a singer and an actor, returned for many years as the guest of honour at Rex Allen Days. In 1989 the town opened the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum, and I was curious to see it.

I had not realized it until I talked to the woman at the Visitor Center that Willcox is the winter home of the sandhill crane. She told me that I had missed “Wings Over Willcox”, an event that draws birders from all over the country and held on Martin Luther King Day. The biologists had counted 36,000 birds this year and she gave me a map indicating the areas where they might be seen. This gave me an added incentive to stay in Willcox.

As a new member of the Escapees RV Club, I chose one of their lists of discounted parks to stay for the night. Lifestyle RV Resort in Willcox boasted all the amenities I could wish for – cable TV, indoor pool and hot tub, free wi fi, large sites and a dog park.

People in RV parks generally are very friendly, and this one was no exception.

As I was walking Ripley out to the dog park area, I met Pete, a workamper along with his wife Christy from California. They have a Boston terrier and we got to talking. I indicated an interest in workamping in the future, and he suggested that I speak to Mike, the owner of the park, mentioning that it was an easy park to maintain. I followed up on his suggestion, and as a result I will be sending a resume to Mike. Basically, a person works about 16 hours a week and in exchange receives a free site.

Right behind my RV was a tree that seemed to be a favourite for sparrows, and I had a great view of them as I sat on my bed and looked out the window. I wanted especially to photograph one with a red breast (smaller than a robin), but I wasn’t quick enough in getting my camera.

As I get older and my arthritis progresses, I find that hot tubs soothe my aching bones, and so after getting Ripley settled, I headed over to soak. Shortly I was joined by Mike Allen, a retired resident who had been a teacher for 32 years. He told me that he taught mostly in Germany, his students being children of the military serving there. He and his family had an interesting life living there, traveling around the Continent on holidays, etc., but now enjoy living in Willcox near his mother in law.

While browsing through the book exchange area of the office, I met Milton and Kathleen Cook from Kelowna, B.C., who invited me to visit after supper. They have a very nice 35’ motorhome which they had just bought a few months previously. They travel to Arizona every year and love it here. We chatted for a couple of hours, and they pointed out the various routes to get to B.C. and invited me to visit them on my way home.

We got to talking about my generator problems, and I mentioned that I couldn’t boondock because the generator dies after about an hour. Milton was convinced that I should be able to operate the lights and furnace on the 12 volt battery and offered to have a look in the morning.


I was up early (7:30 a.m.) to take Ripley for a walk, and while we were out there about 25 sandhill cranes flew overhead. It was a truly wondrous sight to see, and I just couldn’t imagine seeing thousands flying at one time. I was just happy to see 25!

Shortly after we returned, Milton came over to check out my RV, but he could not find any switch that would allow me to operate electricity from my 12 volt battery instead of the generator. Unfortunately, I did not get an operating manual when I bought the RV, so have had to learn what works by trial and error. It seems logical that I should be able to convert to 12 volt when needed, as there is a separate battery under the hood for this purpose, but unfortunately neither Milton nor I could locate a switch to allow this to happen. And so I will have to seek out a shop when I get to Tucson, to see if the generator can be fixed.


It was promising to be a beautiful sunny day as Ripley and I headed off to the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum. It is divided into two parts, the first being devoted entirely to Rex Allen and his family, starting with homesteading and ranch life in Willcox. His early days were spent singing and announcing on radio before he was discovered and went on to appear in 19 movies, as well as on television and public appearances.

Rex Allen insisted that his horse Koko share billing with him in the movies, and when he died at the age of 30, Koko was buried across the street from the Museum.
When Rex Allen died on December 17, 1999, his ashes were scattered there as well, near the bronze statue of him, at his request.

Rex Allen Jr. carried on in his father’s footsteps, having his own successful career in movies and on records, and photos of him and his family also appear in the Museum.

The volunteer guide was very knowledgeable and helpful in giving him the history of the family. She mentioned that the Museum is set up as a non-profit organization and is able to receive grants as a result. They celebrate with a Rex Allen Festival every year, and until his death the actor came back to his home town. His son continues to do so.

The second half of the museum contains the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame, paying tribute to respected individuals in the area’s cattle industry. The paintings and photographs of various cowboys reflected the true characters of these hard-working men.

Next door is the restored Wilcox-Rex Allen Theater, the site of Rex Allen’s early stage shows and where his son made his singing debut. Today it continues as a movie theatre, and on the day that I visited it featured “The Bucket List” as one of its shows. If I hadn't already seen this movie, I would have gone in.

Historic saloon in Willcox


Even though I knew that it was unlikely that the sandhill cranes would be there at noon, I decided to take a run out to Kansas Settlement Road, one of the viewing areas on the map provided by the Visitor Center in Willcox. Traditionally, cranes will fly from their night areas to another area to feed during the day, returning at dusk. But, as I knew I would not be in the neighbourhood at dusk, I took a chance, passing by Dos Cabezas Mountains on the way. Cabeza is Spanish for head, and you can plainly see the twin rocks that have given the mountains their name.

Dos Cabezos Mountains

Unfortunately, I did not encounter any more cranes, and had to be content with the fly-over I saw earlier today.


On the main highway again, I came across a sign mentioning Cochise Stronghold. This famous Apache held out against the soldiers who were trying to capture him by hiding out in the Cochise mountain range, and I thought it would be interesting to see this historic site.

Turning off on Route 186, I headed south past the settlement of Cochise, past the Arizona Electric and Power Company plant and its plumes of smoke, on to a signed turn-off which I followed for some miles past a retirement community and on into cattle country, with its cattle guards across the road. I almost turned back when I got to a sign stating that the road ahead was not maintained and drivers should proceed at their own risk, but decided to continue a bit further, as I was drawn by the rocky vista in front of me. The road soon turned into washboard, rattling the RV and the items inside. After a few miles of this, I decided that I had had enough and regretfully turned around. I did manage to get some photos, but was disappointed not to get to the actual historic site.


My original intention to come to this area was to visit the historic town of Tombstone. With the various detours I made on the way I arrived in Benson around 3:00, and pushed on to Tombstone, about 30 miles south. The winds had picked up considerably, and I still had not decided where to stay overnight.

We passed another famous birding area on the way – San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, and I soon realized that I would need to return to this area at another time.


Meanwhile, I parked the RV in a designated lot right on the main street of Tombstone and headed down to the OK Corral. The plaque tells the story, but the whole of this historic area is dedicated to the gunfight and the people who lived at that time.

I wandered into a building where there is a re-enactment of the gunfight (next showing scheduled for 5:00), and a Historama (dramatic retelling of the origins of the town of Tombstone with dioramas that move), paid my $7.50 and watched the Historama.
Both sides of the street have buildings restored from the 1800’s and now containing gift stores, restaurants and other things to attract the tourist dollar.


It was getting late; the sun sets so early these days, and I still had not found a place to stay for the night. I enquired at the RV park in the middle of town, but it was too expensive ($31), so decided to retrace my steps 16 miles northwest to Tombstone Territories RV Park. The wind had picked up considerably, and I was glad to turn into their gates and get settled, paying $16 (half price for Passport America).

I was in luck. I arrived just in time for a Super Bowl potluck dinner in the huge rec hall. The game itself was being shown on a huge screen, but as I am not a football fan, I just grabbed some food and looked at the binder containing the bird sightings and photos of birds found in that area. I will definitely have to explore this further.


I had parked Philippa on Earp Alley, one of several roads named after local heroes and bad guys (Wyatt Way/Doc Drive/Holliday Street/Clanton Court/Boothill Lane/Virgil View). The RV was rocking from the strong winds by this time, but Ripley and I still ventured out beyond the park on the hiking trail so that she could get comfortable before it got completely dark. The trail winds through desert cacti and mesquite trees, and of course Ripley found all kinds of great smells to check out.

Since the park had a hot tub and pool, I headed over to soak. The hot tub is outside, but sheltered from the winds by a fence. It was glorious to lie in the hot water and look up at the now darkened sky with all the stars of the constellation putting on their show.


The TV and radios stations were warning of a severe storm on its way. The RV was still rocking from the strong winds, but the sky looked clear as Ripley and I took to the hiking trail. The park is adjacent to the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, and there are miles of trails. We only went for about a mile because the clouds were moving in from the nearby mountains.

So, here was my dilemma. Should I go back to Tombstone as I had planned to do today, or do I stay put? When it started to snow, I decided to remain where I was, get back in the hot tub and just enjoy the pleasant surroundings. The RV park is well maintained, the sites are spacious compared to some I’ve been in, the facilities are great, so it was not a hardship to remain longer than planned. Meanwhile, the weather did get quite fierce, with freezing rain throughout the day.

When the weather cleared a little later in the day, I decided to switch the RV around so that my head would not be facing downhill as it was last night. I woke up with a headache as a result. I really must buy some boards so that I can level the RV because most park sites are not level.

Later in the day Ripley and I took another walk on the scenic hiking trail, which took us up and around some washes and through the cacti and bushes. She truly enjoys herself when off leash so that she can investigate all the holes in the ground.


On February 1-3 in nearby Sierra Vista there was a festival called the 16th Annual Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering. One of the entertainers from that event was invited to entertain the park’s guests tonight. Earl Gleason has won many competitions over the years, and although getting on in years, he still performs regularly around the country. He put on a show for us that lasted over two hours, singing songs that I have not heard since my childhood when I spent many a Saturday afternoon in the movie theatre with my brother, watching westerns starring people like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, singing cowboys. In particular, I enjoyed hearing Ghostriders in the Sky.

Earl could yodel as well, and told us funny stories about his life. He really is a cowboy, having a ranch with cattle. He has recorded a few CD’s which of course he just happened to have with him. I did buy the one that has Ghostriders in the Sky on it.


There was a heavy frost overnight so I bundled up with gloves and hat when taking Ripley for her morning walk.


I headed off for Tombstone (their motto is “The Town Too Tough to Die”) early so that I could spend the day enjoying the touristy things that this town offers.


I started off at the Visitor Center on Allen Street, where I was given a VIP pass that provides $1.00 off for some of the various entertainment, including the Wild West Show (price $3 for seniors with the discount). The entrance to the show is through a stockade where there are replicas of a saloon, jail and goldmine. You can see that I took advantage of the cut-outs to have my photo taken.

Lost Dutchman Mine

The show was a comic rendition of a gunfight set in front of a western town “set”. Three men acted out the parts of the town sheriff and two bad guys. It wasn't that great. Not what I was expecting, I have to admit.

the "Bad Guys'

The "Sheriff"

The nearby library is housed in the original building from the 1800’s – a small two-room affair but having internet connection, so I spent an hour there catching up on email, etc.


I wandered back up to Allen Street in time to see Texas Kate come by, standing on the saddle of her horse and announcing her Wild West Show, featuring animal acts. I was intrigued and decided to pay the $4 entrance fee and wandered down to the show ring.

Texas Kate used to compete in trick riding with her former horse, who is now retired, winning many medals (according to her). She explained that all the animals used in the show and who were in the adjacent petting zoo were rescue animals and encouraged people to consider adopting a pet from their local humane society. I liked her for this.

Texas Kate asked the audience where they were all from, and I was surprised at how many Canadians were there – mostly from Alberta but one family was from Niagara Falls.

Her sidekick Pigeon Joe, brought out a donkey who performed by refusing to do anything it was supposed to do, and then a lovely Tennessee Walking Horse with a short tail. Texas Kate explained that this horse named Rebel had passed through several trainers, who were unable to get the horse to do anything. The last trainer got so exasperated that he poured gasoline on the horse’s tail and set him on fire! She then put Rebel through a series of commands to bow, shake his head yes and no, lie down, etc., proving that Rebel just needed the right kind of training – with kindness and patience.

She demonstrated the bullwhip, cutting off paper held in her hand, etc. She said that she was going to demonstrate bullfighting with her red cape, and out came three bull terriers with horns on their heads.

The main feature, however, was her beautiful pinto horse Desperado (saved from the slaughterhouse), who had been in training for only a short while to do trick riding.

After the show was over, she invited people to come down to meet Desperado, and of course I did (and had my photo taken).

I went back to the RV to get Ripley, and we wandered up Allen Street, past the historic Bird Cage Theatre, Courthouse, Tombstone Epitaph newspaper and past the various souvenir stores; Ripley and I shared a roast beef sandwich outdoors.

Tombstone courthouse


It was getting close to the time for the next re-enactment at the OK Corral, so I took Ripley back to the RV. The actual gunfight took place a few doors down from the corral, but the re-enactment is at the corral. The sun was beating down, but most of the seating area was in the shade. As I sat there, waiting for the show to start, I wished that I had a heavier sweater on, reminding me that it still is winter here in the mountains. The show started off with a comedy routine, which I felt spoiled everything. They should have just stuck with the anticipated gunfight. The young man portraying Wyatt Earp did not have the long dustcoat, or a moustache, so I didn’t think he looked very authentic. The show was a bit of a let-down.


A visit to Tombstone would not be complete with stopping at Boothill. However, you have to enter the cemetery through a gift shop and buy a descriptive list of the more than 250 graves for $2.00. The brochure said it was the burial place for the town’s first pioneers starting in 1878. It lay for years neglected and much of the old cemetery has gone back to nature. Years of research and hard work by interested citizens of the town have helped to preserve the main part of the cemetery as you see it today”.


It was getting late. I chose another Passport America RV park, near to Sierra Vista. The Caverns RV Resort is a private membership park but open to overnighters. People who wish to stay longer buy into the membership like a time share and are entitled to stay two weeks every year.

As bingo was the event for the evening, I decided to go to the club house and join in. I won $2!!

On the bulletin board outside the club house, I noticed a poster advertising that Ian Tyson would be appearing in the area next week. I recall seeing him and Sylvia (his wife back then) in the coffee houses in Toronto way back when. I knew that he had moved to Alberta and lived on a ranch but I didn’t know that he was still performing. Unfortunately he is appearing later, when I will have left Arizona.


The resort featured a breakfast buffet for $3.50. I had pancake, scrambled eggs, biscuit and hash browns. I sat with Phil Miller, from Palm Springs, California. He is here for the Gem Show in Tucson.


After filling my propane tank, I left for RV City just down the road, in the hope that they could service my generator, but they were fully booked today and referred me to Simonsen Generator in Tucson, an hour away. When I called, the service manager said that if I could get there right away, someone could have a look. There’s a lot of construction in Tucson and many of the off ramps to the downtown area are blocked off, but my GPS guided me to Simonsen.

Two of their junior mechanics worked on my generator for about three hours, changed both spark plugs and adjusting the carburetor, but it still died after about a half hour. Finally, one of their senior men was free to look at it and determined that the generator was overheating because there was no air passage in the compartment. He said that it would be necessary to take the generator out, cut a hole in the compartment and then re-install it. By this time it was quitting time and they have no free time until Monday, February 11. So, instead of continuing on my journey, I must return to Tucson.


I had been in contact with Jan and Brad Barnes throughout the day, and we finally agreed to meet up at Little Mexico Restaurant, a few miles from the generator shop.

As much as I don’t like to use Wal Mart stores, I did stop to get various supplies on my way to meet Jan and Brad at the restaurant because I could get everything I needed in one place (dog chow, toilet paper, printer cartridges, socks and an ATM).

By this time, I was caught up in rush hour traffic, so it was a slow drive. Three drivers yelled at me that my bike was dragging on the ground, but there was no where to pull over to check it until I got to another Wal Mart store next to Little Mexico Restaurant. A former fireman came to the rescue and adjusted my bike which had slipped down from the bike rack. He tied it so well that it will take me ten minutes to get it off next time I want to use it. But first I will have to replace the rear tire which had been dragging on the ground.

Jan and Brad were waiting for me when I finally arrived, and Ripley was excited to see them both again, especially when Jan presented her with a rawhide bone. She did seem a bit apprehensive, though, and ran back into the RV just in case they were coming to take her away.

We had a nice meal in this small Mexican restaurant. I had beef fajitas and a beer while Jan had a gigantic chimichanga and Brad had a chicken dish. As usual I couldn’t finish my meal and took home a doggy bag – supper tomorrow!

Jan and Brad are working at a very expensive resort, and made a booking for me at a more reasonable park called Desert Trails, where they had previously worked. Besides workamping, they are representatives for AGS Publications, soliciting advertising for various campground brochures. When you arrive at most campgrounds to stay at a site, you are given a brochure that contains the map of the park, the rules and on in the inside fold, various ads of interest to campers. For instance RV repair centers, cleaning and restoration of RV’s, service centers, chiropractors, local restaurants and many other businesses will pay for an ad on the brochure. Jan and Brad get a commission for each sale and stay free at the campground while they work. Not a bad way to get around the country!

After we finished our meal, we had another visit with Ripley before heading off for Desert Trails. I’m very glad that Brad guided me there, as I would never have found it in the dark. We said our goodbyes and I got hooked up before taking Ripley for her evening walk. Jan had pointed out where the pool and hot tub was, but there are very few lights in this huge park, and I ended up getting lost when my flashlight batteries gave out. Luckily I came across another dogwalker, and she graciously took me back to my site.

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