Saturday, December 26, 2015

Arizona remembers silent movie star Tom Mix

Tom Mix's horse, Tony, tops the memorial
Silent movie star Tom Mix was born in Pennsylvania and died in the Arizona desert. His love of fast cars led to his death.

Mix was speeding in his Cord Phaeton on Highway 80 (now Highway 79) between Tucson and Phoenix. He failed to stop for barriers warning of a washed out bridge, and went through them into a ravine. A heavy suitcase came loose, hit him on the head and broke his neck. The ravine is now known as Tom Mix Wash.

Tom Mix memorial
A simple memorial to Mix can be found about 20 miles south of Florence near where he died on October 12, 1940. The memorial features a two-foot high statue of his horse, Tony, that he rode in the movies and his circus acts after he left the film industry. The inscription on the memorial plaque reads, “TOM MIX January 6, 1880 - October 12, 1940 Whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the old west in the minds of living men." He was 60 years old.

Tom Mix worked at a variety of jobs, including bartender and ranch hand, before becoming a megastar during the silent movie era. He was the first cowboy star to achieve this status. He starred in around 370 films from 1905 to 1935; a few of the movies were talkies. Along the way, he served as a pall bearer at Wyatt Earp’s funeral.

Mix, who was married five times, was a deserter from the Army in the early 1900s. He kept this a secret, which only came out after he died. He was never court martialed. Because of his immense popularity, the Army did not object to his having a military funeral. Rudy Vallee sang at the services.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Goldfield: Once Nevada's largest city

With a courthouse built in 1907, Goldfield is
 the county seat for Esmeralda County.
Some say Goldfield, Nevada, is a ghost town.  Tis true, it’s past its prime, but there’s still some life kicking in this old mining town.

Goldfield’s prime was 1905 to 1910 when it was roaring with activity due to gold mining operations. According to the Goldfield Chamber of Commerce, the town had everything a resident could want, from restaurants to saloons, from theatres to red light districts, and from casinos to athletic clubs. It even had a church. It was the largest city in Nevada.

Today, it has a few cafes, a church, gem and gift chops, and a saloon or two, including the Santa Fe Saloon and Motel. The saloon was established in 1905 and is one of the oldest continuously operating saloons in the state. It also has lots of abandoned buildings.

Gold was discovered here in 1902, with major mining operations taking place until about 1940.  During this time, about $86 million worth of gold was mined, leading the Goldfield Historical Society to describe Goldfield as the “world’s greatest gold camp.” The town quickly reached a population of 20,000 and just as quickly dropped to under 5,000 souls in 1910. Today, it has less than 300 people, which is probably why it’s referred to as a ghost town.
Antique mining equipment on display in Goldfield
During its heyday, some famous people lived in Goldfield, including Wyatt and Virgil Earp and Mark Twain.

The historical society offers a brochure outlining a walking tour of the old town. Mining equipment also can be viewed on city streets.

Goldfield is located on U.S. Highway 95 about 26 miles south of Tonopah, which is the nearest gas station.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Westward ho! The Calfironia Trail

California Trail crosses through northern Nevada

For decades, pioneers traveled the Oregon Trail from the East to new lives in the West. It is indeed the most prominent of all roads leading to Pacific Ocean Country.
But another trail was equally important in carrying hundreds of thousands of pioneers to greener pastures: the California Trail.
Map of the California Trail
Most emigrants traveled the Oregon Trail through to southern Idaho when California-bound travelers cut away to head for the Golden State. Their route took them across northern Nevada before turning south to California.
Because crossing the lofty Sierra Nevada Mountains was difficult, some early travelers went as far south as Bakersfield, California. The first few groups of pioneers had to abandon their wagons in what is now Nevada; this was as early as 1841. In the next several years, guides searched for new routes across the Sierra Nevadas, finally finding one that was doable by wagon when there was no snow on the ground.
The Donner party learned the hard way that wagons couldn’t make it across the pass with snow on the ground. Today, modern travelers can cross what is known as Donner Pass in just a few minutes of freeway driving.
Rest area lies on California Trail
The California Trail attracted growing numbers of pioneers every year, but trail traffic really escalated with the discovery of gold in California in 1848. That year, 25,000 people traveled by wagon train to California; this was more than had come in all the years previously.
Soon, 50,000 people were coming to California this way.
Travelers can follow the California Trail in comfort by driving Interstate 80 across northern Nevada, dipping south to Reno and then continuing on to San Francisco via Donner Pass.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tucson gardens showcase desert landscapes

Pima County demonstration garden at Tucson
Visitors to Tucson who have green thumbs may want to check out the Pima County Cooperative extension demonstration gardens for ideas to incorporate into their gardens at home. A myriad of ideas for all garden settings can be gleaned in just a few minutes’ walk.

Cooperative extension offers two demonstration gardens in Pima County. One is located at 4210 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson, which is the one we visited. The other can be found at 1100 Whitehorse Canyon Road in Green Valley, south of Tucson on Interstate 19. The Green Valley garden is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, while the Tucson garden is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no admission charge to wander through the gardens.

The Tucson garden is the biggest, showcasing 11 garden settings while Green Valley has only four types of gardens. The Tucson garden has been named an All American Selections Display Garden since it shows how plans from all over North America can be adapted to grow in the desert southwest.

Other gardens in Tucson are:

·       Basin edible garden, which grows fruits, veggies and herbs in basin, with most of the produce donated to local food banks.

Pima County demonstration garden
 at Tucson

·       Cactus and succulent garden that shows the use of cactus and succulents in patios or as accent decorations.

·       Color garden that showcases flowering plants and decorative ground covers.

·       Container garden, which shows how to use a variety of containers, either singly or in groups, as decorative accents.

·       Grass garden, which concentrates on Arizona’s native grasses.

·       Habitat garden, which uses logs, rocks and plants to provide food and shelter for wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation has certified this garden for wildlife habitat.

·       Pollinator garden.

·       Raised edible garden

·       Rose garden showcases roses that grow well in Arizona.

·       Small space garden, which uses dwarf plants appropriate to the climate.

·       Xeriscape garden that uses plants native to the Sonoran Desert that grow well in dry climates.

 Green Valley features vegetable, xeriscape, ornamental and cactus gardens.



Friday, October 2, 2015

Small Arizona town has Hollywood appeal

Longhorn Grill
Amado, Arizona, is a small town about 40 miles south of Tucson at Exit 48 off Interstate 19, which links Tucson with the Mexican border.

 It has a few hundred residents and a miniscule business district, so townsfolk most likely to north to Green Valley or south to Nogales when they need to go shopping.

The town’s main claim to fame apparently lies with filmdom.

This is the place Gordon MacRae sang. “Oh! What  beautiful mornin’” in in Rogers and Hammerstein's  Oklahoma. Additionlly, the Longhorn Grill is where a scene in Alice doesn’t live here anymore was filmed.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Opa! Tucson celebrates its Greek-ness

Salad and spanakopita
A touch of Greece cones to Tucson every year when St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church throws its annual Greek Festival, an event that has grown from a single dinner to a four-day event filled with food, entertainment and displays of Greek crafts and jewelry.

Always there is the food: gyros stuffed with meat, spanakopita, meatballs, souvlaki and baklava, among other delectable desserts. There’s a Greek market where you can buy feta and kasthiri cheeses, bags of kalamata olives and Greek seasonings.  Go hungry and come away stuffed like a dolmathes.

Festival activities reflected in church windows
2015 marked the 39th year for the festival. It was cancelled in 2013 due to a fire that destroyed part of the church, but returned in 2014 with more than 11,000 people attending. The festival was started about 40 years ago by Father Anthony Moschonas who wanted to share Greek culture with Tucson.

St. Demetrios was founded in 1947, being housed first in a church building that previously housed the First Christian Church. Construction on the present church began in 1967, with the first services being held the following year. It is named in honor of two Greek University of Arizona graduates who died in World War II.

St. Demetrios is located at 1145 East Fort Lowell Road in Tucson. The Greek Festival is generally held in late September.  The church’s regular parking lot is filled with food booths during the festival, but the church offers free shuttle service from nearby parking lots.

Tip: Go early. Thousands of people attend this event every day of its run, and food lines quickly grow long.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bonneville Salt Flats offers unique landscape

In a state filled with beautiful, unique scenery, one famous feature fits only into the unique feature.  Whatever words you use to describe Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, pretty isn't one of them.

The salt flats, located in western Utah near the border with Nevada, are barren and, well, just plain ugly. Little vegetation grows near its most famous section, the Bonneville Speedway, though the dynamic is different in the surrounding hills.

At one time, eons ago, Lake Bonneville covered the area. It dried up, leaving the salt. The Great Salt Lake was once part of Lake Bonneville. The high salt content is one reason vegetation doesn't grow here. Ponds and marshes that support plants and wildlife can be found around the edges of the salt flats, which in some places look like snow-covered ground.

The salt flats, located about 10 miles from Wendover, Nevada, are visible from Interstate80. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which administers the 30,000 acres, has a rest stop where travelers can walk out onto the salt flats. It also has a facility where travelers can clean the salt from their shoes before resuming their journey.

Speed Week is perhaps the most famous event associated with Bonneville Salt Flats. Hundreds of vehicles show up for the annual event in hopes of being named the fastest vehicle in their class. The crusty packed salt is ideal for this. Unfortunately, Speed Week has been cancelled the last two years because of poor surface conditions.

The movie, The World's Fastest Indian, gives a good picture of what Speed Week is all about.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Utah's Zion National Park: a place of stunning beauty

Zion National Park
Utah isn’t the drab state that many people imagine it to be. Southern Utah is filled with colorful scenery, and nowhere is it more colorful than Zion National Park, one of five national parks in the state.

Zion has gorgeous red rock formations, accented by the greens of evergreen trees, the blues of its creeks and the many shades of brown found in its mountains. The canyon scenery is considered some of the best in the whole United States.

Human habitation of Zion began about 7,000 years ago, though it was the 19th century Mormon settlers who gave it its name, since it reminded them of a sanctuary. Hence, some of the religious oriented names, such as the Three Patriarchs, named for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or West Temple, the highest peak in southern Zion, and its Towers of the Virgin.

Zion is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, bikers, horseback riders and birdwatchers. The scenery also can be viewed by driving the scenic roads.
Kolob Canyon
Zion almost seems like two parks: two entrances are on Highway 9, known as the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, and the Kolob Canyon entrance, which is right at Exit 44 on Interstate 15.

The Zion-Mount Carmel route has a narrow tunnel that was considered an engineering miracle when it was built in the late 1920s.  Because it’s so narrow, RVs and other large vehicles must have escorts; traffic is blocked coming the other way when large rigs to through. The park service charges for this escort service.



Friday, June 19, 2015

Quail Creek's reservoir offers prime fishing

Quail Creek State Park
Utah’s Quail Creek State Park is a fisherman’s dream since it offers year ‘round fishing in the reservoir.

The reservoir was formed by two dams. It’s filled with waters, not from Quail Creek but from the Virgin River.  The water is used for irrigation and households in the St. George area.

The reservoir is stocked with a variety of fish. At its deepest, the reservoir has rainbow trout, catfish and crappie. Largemouth bass and bluegill inhabit the warmer levels of water.

The boat ramp is open daily, as is the park. Camping is available. The reservoir is open to both power and people-powered watercraft. Skiing, swimming and windsurfing also can be done on the reservoir. Wildlife viewing also is a popular activity,

Quall Creel became a Utah state park in 1986. It is located at 472 N. 5300 W. in Hurricane.



Friday, June 5, 2015

Castle Valley: scenic viewpoint on I-70 in Utah

Castle Valley, Utah, was once a sea.

Castle Valley is a scenic viewpoint on Interstate 70 across Utah that connects Interstate 15 with Grand Junction, Colorado. (A town by the same name is about 20 miles away.

But once upon a time, Castle Valley was part of a great sea, dating back to before the Jurassic era. It was a tropical forest with giant dinosaurs roaming the land. Over the millennia, other plant and animal life built up into the colorful layers of rock, creating coal and natural gas pits in the process.

This area is part of the geologic San Rafael Swell, where erosion has exposed layers of the earth’s crust, giving us a glimpse of what the area was like millions of years ago.

Views stretch for dozens of mils from this viewpoint, which offers picnic tables and vault toilets.





Friday, May 29, 2015

Driving Scenic Highway 12 through Utah

Red rock tunnel on Utah Highway 12
Utah Highway 12 is one of the state’s scenic byways. The byway stretches 124 miles through central Utah, running through two national and three state parks.

The byway is filled with stunning views of red rock formations, forests and just plain rugged landscapes is it connects U.S. Highway 89, a north-south route, a few miles south of historic Panguitch, with Utah  Highway 24 at Torrey.

It is not a route to be rushed as there are many opportunities for side trips off the route or stopping in small towns along the way.

We only drove the route from Highway 89 to Bryce Canyon City, which is the only entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. This is a distance of only 13 miles and, unfortunately, only provided sampler of the beautiful scenery to come.
A section of Scenic Byway 12

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Parowan showcases ancient tribal rock art in Utah

Parowan petroglyphs
Parowan Gap in southern Utah is famous for two things. One is the pass through the Red Hills that started forming 15 million years ago. The second is the ancient petroglyphs carved into the mountainsides.

Known as a wind gap, the pass is a unique geologic feature formed millions of years ago when a river ran through the hills. The river dried up due to climactic changes, and the area is now known as the Escalante Desert.

The petroglyphs are an excellent example of Native American rock art, some of which dates back 1,000 years. Over the centuries, the Indians carved circles, and pictures of snakes, bears and people into the rocks. It is believed that the primitive drawings represent the work of several Native American cultures. The petroglyphs are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Parking with a vault toilet is available just east of the pass. There are sidewalks on both sides of the road through the gap. The petroglyphs are fenced off, because it’s illegal to touch them. They are, however easily visible from the sidewalks.

Getting there

Take the Highway 130/North Main exit off of Interstate 15 just north of Cedar City, Utah.  Disregard the tourist information that says to drive 13.5 miles on Highway 130 from the freeway exit. It’s actually several miles farther; in any case, stay on 130 until you reach the sign that points right to Parowan. The petroglyphs are a couple of miles down Parowan Gap Road.ighwy 130 from the Hi

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pipe Spring monument worth a detour in northern Arizona

Mormon fort at Pipe Spring
Sometimes the most interesting sites pop up when you least expect it, like when you’re driving down the highway to another destination. That’s how we discovered Pipe Spring National Monument.

We were driving along Utah Highway 59 across northern Arizona when we saw a sign for it. We decided if it was less than 10 miles off the highway, we’d visit it. As it turned out, the monument, which is operated jointly by the National Park Service and Paiute Indian Tribe, is less than a half mile down the side road.

It was well worth the stop. There’s a small visitor center with interpretive exhibits and a 23-minute video explaining the significance of Pipe Spring. Outside, there are brush huts used by the Paiutes, a brick fort built by Brigham Young and other outbuildings, including corrals for animals.

Indian huts at Pipe Spring
Pipe Spring was an excellent source of water for the first users, the Kaibab Paiute Indians, who were followed by explorers, missionaries and other travelers who passed through this high-desert area of Arizona.

In the second half of the 1800s, Pipe Spring was part of Brigham Young’s plan to settle Utah, with residents pledging 10 percent of their cattle operation to the Mormon church. The cattle operation was not that successful, but the area became a haven for church polygamists.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Small Utah museum showcases Western movie sets

Old movie sets at Little Hollywood

Southern Utah’s rigged terrain, clear blue skies and wide open spaces make it a natural setting for Western movies and television shows.
More than 100 movies have been filmed in the Kanab area, a small town not too far north of the border with Arizona.
The first movie was filmed here in 1924, Deadwood Coach, starring Tom Mix. Others that followed include the original Stagecoach, filmed in 1939; 1939’s Drums Along the Mohawk, and Westward the Women (one of my favorites) in 1951, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, starring Clint Eastwood. TV series filmed here include Lassie, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel and The Lone Ranger
Some stars, such as John Wayne and Dean Martin were in several movies filmed here.
IF you’re driving through Kanab, Little Hollywood Movie Museum makes for a pleasant stop. This free museum has a small collection of building fronts used as sets in various movies.   Placards identify the movies the particular building front was in. Several of the sets are from The Outlaw Josey Wales.
The museum is located at 297 W. Center Street, which is also known as US Highway 89.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

San Rafael Reef: A lesson in geology in central Utah

San Rafael Reef
The San Rafael Reef is a unique geologic feature that is bisected by Interstate 70 as it runs through central Utah. It is located at the eastern end of the 75-mile long and 45-mile wide San Rafael Swell.

The San Rafael Swell was created millions of years ago by enormous geologic upheavals that created a “swell” in the earth’s surface.

At the reef, these geologic actions forced mountains and gigantic boulders  to lie at an angle; these formations are made of Navaho and Wingate sandstone that have been shaped by erosion. The reef is located in high desert country about 30 miles west of Green River, Utah. There are numerous slot canyons in the reef area; a slot canyon is one that is deeper than it is wide.

The swell is considered a wilderness area, populated with antelope and wild horses, and crossed by roads that can only be driven in four-wheel drive vehicles. Much of the swell is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tracking dinosaurs in Utah

A dinosaur track
More than 200 million years ago, dinosaurs ruled the earth.  They came in all shapes and sizes; big feet, little feet, huge feet. Then they became extinct, but not forgotten. Bones are found throughout the world, including the American West.

One place they turned up unexpectedly was St. George, Utah, when a local optometrist, Dr. Sheldon Johnson, was leveling ground to develop his property. A dinosaur track turned up while he was operating excavation equipment one day in 2000.

A dinosaur foot
Paleontologists and volunteers headed to the Johnson farm to work on track recovery. Before they were finished, thousands of tracks and other fossils were to be uncovered.

Some of those tracks can be seen today at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.

At one time, the Johnson farm was covered by Dixie Lake, a prehistoric lake from the early Jurassic period. Dinosaur swim tracks also turned up and are on display at the museum. Work is continuing on restoring the finds; visitors can watch technicians work on the specimens through a large glass window into the laboratory.

The Dinosaur Tracks museum is very kid=friendly. There’s an education room where tools used by paleontologists are displayed. The room also contains wooden jigsaw puzzles of dinosaurs, and a special coloring area for kids to work with dinosaur outlines. Almost all of the tracks on display in the museum are marked “do not touch,” but a few say, “It’s OK to touch.”
 a dinosaur bone

Outside, there’s a large sandbox with sand pails and shovels that kids can use to turn up dinosaur “tracks”. A waist-level sandbox has brushes for people to clear away the sand as they search for “bones.”

Dinosaur Tracks is located at 2180 E. Riverside Drive. The museum is closed Sundays and holidays during the winter. It is open seven days a week, including holidays in the summer. Admission is charged.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bryce Canyon: on a clear day you can see Arizona

View from Rainbow Point at Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park offers stunning vistas of red rock formations as far as the eye can see or maybe even farther, as the views stretch 200 miles to southern Utah and northern Arizona.

One of five national parks in Utah, Bryce Canyon was formed more than 60 million years ago, Geologic upheavals and erosion from ice and storms moved rocks into the Grand Canyon, leaving behind colorful domes, pillars and spires.

Located on the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, one of Utah’s high plateaus, this geologic wonderland is named after Ebenezer Bryce, an early settler in the area.

Bryce Canyon National Park
There are at least two ways to appreciate the grandeur that is Bryce Canyon. One way is to hike interconnecting trails that lead through the hoodoos and amphitheaters. Another way to enjoy the park is to drive the scenic road to Rainbow Point, at 9,100 feet the highest point accessible by car. This scenic 17-mile drive is open year round, with park service crews plowing the highways after each snowstorm.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities, while summer activities include hiking and camping. Wildlife, such as deer and antelope, can be seen year round.

The visitor center is open year round at the park’s entrance. It has a nice museum with stunning murals of the park. 

The only entrance to the park is off Utah Route 12 at Bryce Canyon /City. It’s about 14 miles east of U.S. 89.
Bryce Canyon National Park





Thursday, April 9, 2015

Silver Reef, Utah: Ghost town museum providces peek at past

Interpretive sign at Silver Reef  Museum
Silver Reef, Utah, is a ghost town now, but once it was a booming mining town with a Main Street that was a mile long.

Silver Reef is unique among mining towns because it was the only place in the United States where silver is found in sandstone, making the mining process easier. Gold and turquoise also were found here.

The town, which once had a population of 2,000 people, sat on a hillside with colorful red rock cliffs to the west. It was a thriving town, with a first class restaurant, the Cosmopolitan; a five-star hotel, the Harrison House, nicknamed Silver Reef’s Waldorf Astoria; a Wells Fargo station and Rice Bank, among other businesses lining Main Street.

Silver was first discovered here in 1866, but wasn’t taken seriously as silver is not often found in sandstone. It wasn’t until 1875 that mining operations started at a place called Bonanza City. Because property values were so high, some miners started a town nearby, calling it Rockpile. The name was later changed to Silver Reef.
Silver Reef Museum
Though surrounded by predominantly Mormon residents, the town never had an LDS church, though it did have a Catholic church. It had two cemeteries, one for Catholics, the other for Protestants.

Most of the mines had closed by 1884 because world silver prices dropped. Most of the buildings were either demolished or moved to nearby Leeds by 1901. A couple of attempts were made to mine silver, and then uranium, in the first half of the 20th century, but neither effort lasted very long.
The museum is now on the National and Utah Register of Historic Places.

The Silver Reef Museum grounds are open daily, though the museum itself is closed three days a week, including Sundays. An interpretive trail guide is available that allows visitors to take a self-guided walking tour of the museum grounds.  The grounds are free, though admission is charged for the museum building; donations are suggested for the trail guide.

Silver Reef is located just off Interstate 15 at Leeds, about 15 miles north of St. George. Northbound traffic must exit at Exit 22, then drive north through Leeds, following the signs. Traffic southbound on I-15 should get off the freeway at Exit 23, and turn right, following the signs up the hill to 1903 Wells Fargo Drive.  There is no return to the freeway southbound at Exit 23, so motorists will need to drive through Leeds to Exit 22.






Friday, April 3, 2015

Cheryl's top 10 list of Tucson attractions

Tucson has so many interesting things to see and do, it's difficult to cram them ll into a few days' visit. We stayed in Tucson for seven months, which gave us plenty of time to see its attractions, but we still didn't see everything the city has to offer.

Over the months, we visited dozens of attractions in and around the city. Picking out my favorites was a tough job, with strong competition coming from places such as Saguaro National Park, Rillito Farmers Market, Tohono Chul  and Arizona History Museum. Here’s a list of my top 10 favorite places to visit:

10. Pancho Villa statue: This impressive statue, located in a park in downtown Tucson, was controversial when it was given to the people of Arizona by the president of Mexico. Why? Because in the early 20th century, Pancho Villa was the only person to invade the United States and kill its citizens since the War of 1812.

9. Mt. Lemmon scenicdrive: When temperatures in Tucson get too hot, pack a picnic lunch and head up to Mt. Lemmon for stunning views of Tucson and miles beyond. The journey takes motorists through four ecosystems, from the deserts of Mexico to the pines of Canada. In the winter, it's southern Arizona's only ski area.

8. DeGrazia Gallery inthe Sun: Ted De Grazia was a multi-talented artist who worked with paints, clay, and even aluminum cans, He also was temperamental, once burning $250,000 worth of his paintings in a protest against inheritance tax laws.

7.Jewish History Museum: This small museum, located in Tucson's first synagogue, is considered one of the best Jewish history museums in the United States. One section is devoted to Tucson residents who survived the Holocaust.

6. Tucson PresidioMuseum: The museum stands on a portion of the original presidio where Tucson was founded in 1775. It's the place to be on the second Saturday of winter months for those who want to see "Spanish" soldiers fire muskets and sample fresh made tortillas cooked the old fashioned way.

5. Frost: Locations throughout Tucson serve up sinfully delicious gelatos that have fewer calories and fat than regular ice cream. This is where Tucson residents get their ice cream fix. We especially liked their store at Encantada Shopping mall, which is possibly one of the prettiest malls you’ll ever visit.

4. Mission San Xavierdel Bac: This centuries' old graceful white church is one of Tucson's icons, calling out to travelers along Interstate 19.

3. Pima Air & SpaceMuseum:  The largest private aircraft museum in the United States. It contains mostly military planes, with the space gallery containing a moon rock.

2. Old Tucson: Old Tucson is both a theme park and a movie studio, since more than 300 Western movies and TV shows were filmed here, ranging from McClintok! to Little House on the Prairie. We liked it so much, we went twice!

1. Arizona Sonora DesertMuseum: Perhaps Tucson's top-rated tourist attraction, and one of the world's top outdoor museums. With more than 40 acres of trails leading through the Sonora Desert, the museum is both a botanical garden and zoo.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

A visit to historic Mesilla, New Mexico

Basilica of San Albino
Mesilla, New Mexico, is a small town, seemingly quiet today, quite unlike how it was a century or so ago when it played an important part in the history of the West.
Located just a few miles from Las Cruces, Mesilla had an important part in the Civil War, serving as capital of the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona.
A block or so off the main drag is the plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark. Signs on some of the buildings gave their history. Anchoring one end of the plaza is the Basilica of San Albino that was originally built in 1852 when Mesilla was part of Mexico. Mesilla became part of the United States as a result of the 1854 Gadsden Purchase. The current church was built in 1906.
Mesilla was the most important city in the region for nearly 30 years, especially since two stage lines crossed through here, Butterfield Stage and Santa Fe Trail. It would have retained its importance as a transportation hub had the residents not demanded so much money for the Santa Fe Railway to pass through; the railway instead routed its rails through Las Cruces.
.Billy the Kid was convicted of
murder in this building in Mesilla
Today, Mesilla is probably better known as the place where the gunslinger William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid, The gunman, captured by Pat Garrett in December 1880, went on trial in Mesilla for the murder of another sheriff. He was convicted and sentenced to hang. Before the hanging, he was transferred to Lincoln, but shot his two guards and escaped. He was killed a few months later, while still on the loose, by Garrett at Fort Sumner where he was buried.
Another legendary gunman to pass through Mesilla was PanchoVilla, a man famous for being the Robin Hood of Mexico. In 1916, he invaded New Mexico at Columbus to get more military equipment and supplies to continue a fight back in Mexico. Eighteen Americans were killed, turning him into a villain in the southwestern United States.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fort Bowie, Arizona: defending the West

Remains of Fort Bowie
Fort Bowie may be a little bit out of the way for some tourists, but for travelers interested in learning more about the Frontier West it is well worth the effort to get there.

Located in southeast Arizona, Fort Bowie is the first tourist attraction visitors driving Interstate 10 from New Mexico will come to. Conversely, it is the last attraction motorists headed from Tucson to Las Cruces, New Mexico, will find.

Getting to the fort
The remains of the first and second Fort Bowie are located about 14 miles from Bowie, a small community that appears to be turning into a ghost town, with many main street buildings boarded up. After exiting the freeway, follow the signs, turning on Apache Pass Road.
A few miles down this paved road, the road to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site spikes to the left, while Apache Pass Road leads to the trailhead. There visitors can walk 1.5 miles through the hills to the fort’s remains. The trailhead has ample parking and clean restrooms, but no potable water, so be sure to bring plenty, especially on hot days.
Remains of Fort Bowie
Where the road spikes, the sign to the visitor center specifies this entrance is for handicapped visitors only. There are only two disabled parking spaces at the small visitor center, and motorists need to call ahead for the gate to be opened. There is parking for a few more cars below the visitor center, but this involves walking up an uneven stone and dirt path. Since the site only gets about 8,000 visitors a year, chances are good, parking will be available.  

Before taking this route, however, motorists need to decide how comfortable they feel driving on a narrow, one-lane gravel road with no shoulders or pull-offs. If you meet a car coming the other way, one of you is going to have to do a lot of backing up. If we had left the visitor center a few minutes later, that’s what would have happened to us since we encountered a delivery truck coming up the hill just past where the road widened.

A remote hillside fort

Plaque of Fort Bowie in 1894

Fort Bowie has a nice informational visitor center that is operated by the National Park Service, which administers the site. There are photographs of what the fort looked like in its heyday. The Army abandoned the fort in 1894; local farmers tore down buildings and fences for wood to build at their sites. What remains are fragments of adobe buildings that have survived the elements since that time. Troops also defended the area when Confederate soldiers invaded during the Civil War, hoping to secure the Southwest for the Confederacy.

The fort is named from Col. George Washington Bowie, leader of the California Volunteers who staffed the fort. It’s probable that he shared common ancestors with Jim Bowie of the Bowie knife and Alamo fame. The fort later became a stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail route.
Apache wars

Fort Bowie was an important fort during the  years of war with the Chiricahua Apaches. These wars started in approximately 1861, with the first Fort Bowie being established the following year. The war started when Cochise and  Lt. George Bascom failed to agree on how to rescue the stepson of a local farmer who claimed Apaches had kidnapped him and killed 20 cattle. During the coming days, each side would execute hostages, with a full-fledged battle ensuing. Cochise would visit the fort three times after he signed  a peace treaty ending the wars in 1872.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Visiting Tucson's frontier Army post, Fort Lowell

Remains of Fort Lowell hospital
The adobe remnants of an old 19th century Army post can still be seen today in Tucson.

The adobe has deteriorated since Fort Lowell was abandoned by the Army in 1891. Remains are covered by open sheds to protect them from the elements.

The fort is located where Tanque Verde and Pantano creeks join to form the Rillito River. The Hohokam tribe had lived there centuries earlier. Fort Lowell replaces an earlier Army installation, Camp Lowell that was located elsewhere in Tucson. The post is named after General Charles R. Lowell who died from wounds suffered at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Fort Lowell was in active use between 1873 and 1891, and was key in protecting the Tucson area from Apache attacks. The post was a large complex, serving approximately 250 soldiers and officers. It had an extensive hospital, parts of which are standing today.

The Army decommissioned the post in 1891, with Mexican families moving in after that.

The remains today can be seen from behind chain link fences. It’s free to view them, but a museum nearby charges admission. The museum is administered by the Arizona Historical Society. The museum is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, though the grounds are open during the week.

The museum is located at 2900 N. Craycroft Road.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tucson toy train museum delights kids of all ages

Gadsden-Pacific Toy Train Museum
Kids of all ages will enjoy a visit to Tucson’s Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum. The best way to describe it is “cool.”
Seven huge tables are full of miniature towns, factories, oil refineries and mountains, with various types of trains running through them. Each table is devoted to a specific type of miniature train, ranging from N scale (the smallest) to large scale. Outside, there’s a real caboose to see and board.
The detail in each table’s contents is incredible. There are tiny people and cars, in period settings designed to complement the era of the train running down the tracks.  Each table has two or more trains running on their own tracks. Overhead, a larger train runs on tracks suspended from the ceiling.
Gadsden-Pacific Toy Train Museum
This model railroad museum is very kid-friendly. Plastic stepstools are provided so children can see the displays. Some displays are interactive. Push a red button, and a trolley comes out of a tunnel and moves around the track. Push another button and a dump truck operates in a rock quarry. Outside, a small train carries kids and adults on a ride around the property.
The museum is usually open the second and fourth Sundays of the month, but does close during June, July and August. You can call (520) 888-2222 to get their schedule. Admission is free, but donations are accepted, as this is a non-profit museum operated by volunteers.
No pun intended, but this fascinating little museum is located off the beaten track in Tucson.  It can be found at 3975 N, Miller Avenue. Take the Prince Road exit off Interstate 10, and then go left on Romero Street. Immediately past the stoplight at Roger Street, make a left turn onto Price Street, which dead ends at Miller. Turn left onto Miller.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chiricahua National Monument: a wonderland of rocks

Chiricahua National Monument
The National Park Service calls Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona a “wonderland of rocks.” As you drive through the park, looking at fantastic rock formations, it is hard to dispute that moniker. The Apaches who roamed the area called it, “The land of standing-up rocks,” another nickname that is hard to argue with.

The monument is in the Chiricahua Mountains, an inactive volcano field that is 20 miles wide and 40 miles long. The monument itself is almost 12,000 acres.

Road to Massai Point
Noteworthy about this spot is that it’s where the Chiricahua, Rockies and Sierra Madre mountains meet the Sonoran and Chiricahuan deserts. This makes for great biodiversity, as trees from the different ecosystems live side by side.
There’s a small visitor center with exhibits that shows an eight-minute video about the monument. It’s narrated by the late Rex Allen, a local boy who hit the big time in Hollywood. Next up is the scenic drive to Massai Point. Some of the road lies under a canopy of trees, but the volcanic rock formations are still in the limelight.

View from Massai Point
Massai Point has a circular turnaround, an interpretive center and restrooms. Trails start here but some visitors found them too steep to walk. More trails can be found at Echo Canyon; in all, the monument has 17 miles of trails.

Motorists should note that RVs and trailers longer than 29 feet are long are not allowed beyond the visitor center.

Chiricahua National Monument is located 37 miles south of Willcox. Exit Interstate 10 at Willcox and head south on Highway 186. Turn left on Highway 181. The drive from Willcox takes about 45 minutes.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

History comes to life at Tucson Presidio Museum

Mural at Tucson Presidio Museum
History travels back to the days when the Spanish ruled Tucson when as soldados fire muskets and a cannon, and then walk through downtown Tucson, Arizona.

This happens the second Saturday of every month from October through April when the Tucson Presidio Museum hosts its “living history” days. Volunteers become Spanish soldiers, dressed in blue and white uniforms; other volunteers don costumes as they portray other residents of the Presidio San Agustin del Tucson.

The presidio was founded in Tucson on August 20, 1775, when soldiers stationed at the Tubac Presidio south of Tucson left only a handful of soldiers there and moved the troops north.  These same troops would later travel overland to California and up the Pacific Coast where they founded San Francisco.

Foundation remains
The current “presidio” is a recreation of the original presidio, or fort, that sat on 11 acres of what today is downtown Tucson. The Spanish abandoned it when Tucson came under American rule in 1856. The presidio site was eventually turned into a parking lot and high-rise office buildings. About 10 years ago, a group acquired the parking lot and built an interpretive center on the site; this presidio is owned by the City of Tucson.  A bit of foundation of the original presidio was found under the asphalt.

The presidio museum is open for self-guided tours Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors can see soldiers’’ quarters, the foundry and food storage areas. A small museum is inside the entrance building.

Spanish "soldados" fire muskets
The presidio, however, really shines on living history days. Some volunteers explain what foods the soldiers brought with them from Spain and what foods were available in the New World. Other volunteers bake bread in a domed adobe over, churn butter and make fresh tortillas and pozole, a chili-like stew made from hominy corn instead of beans. All these dishes are available for visitors to sample.

Volunteers at other tables explain items used by the soldiers on a daily basis, such as cards and tobacco tins. Nearby a woman sits at a loom, weaving cloth, while two men sweat away at a foundry, one making nails by hand and the other fashioning a fork. These items can be purchased by visitors.

The piece de resistance is, however, the gun show. Following instructions given in Spanish, the soldiers take aim and fire, with white smoke billowing out of the muskets. A little later, they’ll demonstrate the firing of a brass cannon. The noise is deafening, though an announcer explains the charge was only about a third of what the Spanish really used. The charge used by the volunteers was spiced up, with the addition or oatmeal and powdered coffee creamer to make the blast flash.

Tucson Presidio Museum is located at 133 W. Washington Street, though the address is sometimes given as 197 N. Church Street, perhaps because the presidio is located at the intersection of Church and Washington. Parking is limited in the immediate area and is metered on weekdays. There’s a parking garage across Church Street.