Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Go down under at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns
If you’re traveling through southern Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns isn’t on your list of sights to see, put it there. This phenomenon of nature is well worth the detour.

Located in the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns was formed 250 million years ago when it was the coastline for an inland sea. Inside you’ll find 119 caves with stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. Some look like big boulders, others like gigantic icicles.  These limestone formations are all stunning.

The formations can be found in “rooms,” some of which are huge. The Big Room, for example, got its name because it’s the biggest down there. It is 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and 285 feet high. It is the fifth largest cavern in North America.

Formations and caves have names, such as the Balloon Ballroom, Witch’s Finger, Chocolate High, Halloween Hall and Left Hand Tunnel. Signage throughout describes what you’re looking at. 

And, of course, there’s the Bat Cave, so named because the cavern’s majority of bats sleep here during the day. They leave at sunset in swarms that’s a sight to see if you’re there at the time.

Carlsbad became a national monument in 1923 and a national park in 1930. 

Carlsbad Caverns

The caverns are accessible by hiking down a trail from the natural entrance or by elevator. I hiked down the trail when I first visited there in 1972 and found the paved steep walkway and handrails slippery with bat guano. To say the least, I was perturbed when I got to the bottom and saw the elevator.  I took it back up. When I visited again in the spring of 2017, I took the elevator both ways.

The caverns are handicapped accessible. Wheelchairs are permitted on the main trail, but only to a certain point. After that, you’ll have to retrace your way back to the “lobby.”

Carlsbad Caverns is open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

You can see more pictures of Carlsbad Caverns on my Youtube slideshow.

Monday, December 11, 2017

White sand glistens in New Mexico

Driving in White Sands
It may look like snow and ice are covering the roads and hills, but don’t let appearances fool you. It’s sand. White sand. Like in White Sands National Monument.

The white sand here is considered one of the world’s natural wonders. You can walk on it (even barefoot if you want), slide on it, camp on it, hike on it or bicycle on it.

The white sand is actually salt gypsum crystal, but from a distance you’d be hard pressed to differentiate it from snow. The gypsum comes from the nearby San Andres and Sacramento mountains. Rain dissolves the gypsum and carries it to the Tularoso Basin where it dries out and becomes sand. Thanks to the wind, it then forms into dunes.

The monument is located in southern New Mexico, about 16 miles southwest of Alamagordo. The white sands have starred in a few monies, including Hang ‘em High and Young Guns II.

 During World War II, White Sands was used as a missile testing site. Testing continues today. The National Park Service warns hikers they might come across active missiles, which should not be disturbed. At times the monument is closed when missiles are being tested.

Otherwise the monument is open daily except for Christmas Day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

St. Stephen's: a scene of peace in Fort Stockton, Texas

St, Stephens
An old wooden church sits quietly on a street corner in Fort Stockton, Texas.

Constructed in 1896, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is the oldest church in the Pecos region. Originally called St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, It was built in Pecos, 54 miles northwest of Fort Stockton, and moved to its present location at the intersection of Second Street and Spring Drive.

Members of the congregation bought the old church and placed it on land donated by Dr. D.J. Sirley.

Interior furnishings in this Victorian-style church include an ebony cross.

Services are held every Sunday at the church.

The church has been a Texas landmark since 1966.

Another view of St. Stephen's

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Alamo: most sacred ground in Texas

The Alamo
There is no more sacred ground in Texas than the site of an early Spanish mission, Mission San Antonio de Valero, more commonly known as The Alamo. Texans today consider it a shrine. It is an icon for the Lone Star state.

 The mission might have ended its days in peaceful obscurity except for a bloody battle that took place there in 1836 during the Texas Revolution for independence from Mexico. It was the turning point in the revolution. While the Texans may have lost the battle of the Alamo, a few months later they won their war for independence.

 Located in what today is the heart of San Antonio and surrounded by modern skyscrapers, the Alamo was built by the Franciscans in 1718. It was a combination of mission, hospital and fortress on the banks of the San Antonio River.  

A tour guide points out bullet holess
The battle for the Alamo began on February 23, 1836, when Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna amassed 6,000 troops outside the mission. With Texas defenders numbering only around 200, the conclusion was foregone from the start. Still, the Texans held on for 13 days before being overrun and massacred by the Mexican Army.

 Mexican troops had been stationed at the mission since the early 1800s, but were routed from their post by Texans in December 1835. Getting the mission back was revenge for them. 
Davy Crockett
National Archives photo

Among the Texas dead were William Travis, fort commander; Jim Bowie, 40, frontiersman and inventor of the famous Bowie knife, and Davy Crockett, 49, former Congressman and famed frontiersman. You can read about how the trio ended up in Texas, far room their homes, in Three Roads to The Alamo by  William C. Davis. A list of the defenders who died during the battle can be found on the Alamo's official wesite.

 If you visit the Alamo today, you’d be hard pressed to imagine the bloody conflict that took place there. The setting is an oasis filled with lush vegetation and a slow moving canal filled with vibrant orange fish. Since Texans consider the Alamo a shrine, visitors are cautioned to dress and behave respectfully while they’re on the grounds.

 The Alamo is open daily, except for Christmas Day, at 300 Alamo Plaza. Admission is free.

 More photos of the Alamo can be found on my YouTube slideshow, Remember the Alamo!.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Stunnning chapel in Arizona's stunning red rock country

It’s not often a church is a city’s major tourist attraction. A few that come to mind are St. Peter’s in Rome, Westminster Abbey in London and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  You probably wouldn’t put a tiny church in Sedona, Arizona, on the list.

Side view of the Chapel of the Holy Cross

Yet the Chapel of the Holy Cross is the most visited and photographed place in Sedona, an upscale community in north central Arizona. Sedona is very scenic, surrounded by gorgeous red rock where off-road vehicle tours of the area are popular.

The view from the altar
It is this very setting, however, that makes the chapel so spectacular.  It is built on red rocks with more red rocks and brilliant blue skies as a backdrop.

The chapel is stunningly simple; there is elegance in its demeanor. It is a place that brings peace to the soul. This is just what its founder, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, intended.

A student of the visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, she designed the chapel to be inspirational in memory of her mother.  She paid for the chapel herself. It is now administered by the Catholic church, but is considered to be non-denominational, inviting all faiths to pray here.

A small shrine along the walkway

The design was ahead of its time, featuring a large cross that spans the width and  of the small chapel andlenghtwise extends down to the red rock below.. Plain glass windows behind the cross allow worshippers to look to the heavens for inspiration. The chapel’s interior has no Stations of the Cross found in Catholic churches, but rather four colored panels – two on each wall. Simple benches provide seating.

Parking and walkway to the chapel
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is located at 780 Chapel Road; take the Chapel Road exit off Highway 179 to the end. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. A few handicapped parking spaces are available at the entrance ramp, but otherwise you’ll have to park alongside the road and walk up the hill.  The walkway to the chapel is another uphill climb, but it’s paved and is wheelchair accessible. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sab Antonio River Walk: a Texas oasis

Like any big city, San Antonio, Texas, is a bustling place, filled with tall buildings and heavily trafficked streets.

Escaping this busy concrete jungle is easier than you might then.  Why drive miles out into the country when you can find an oasis in downtown San Antonio? Just head for River Walk.

River Walk is a series of waterways that runs several miles through San Antonio’s city center. It is second only to the Alamo in the hierarchy of the city’s top tourist attractions. As well it should be.

Wide sidewalks line both sides of the canal. There is lush greenery everywhere, plus fountains and islands used by tour boats to reverse their course. This isn’t Venice, but it’s easy to imagine a gondolier singing "Santa Lucia” as he glides his craft through the water.

Also lining the canal’s banks are shops, galleries, restaurants and bars, and major hotels. River Walk is indeed a world class entertainment center.

There are several public staircases linking the street to River Walk. You can also access it, as we did, from the lobby of a hotel. On-street parking can be difficult to find at times, so you may want to use a hotel’s parking lot.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Desert plants shine in West Texas garden

Desert garden at Langtry, Texas

Whether  you have a green thumb or are just need a break from driving through West Texas, a stop at the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center at Langtry might be just what you need. 

The center is home to the original saloon/courtroom where the judge dispensed both booze and justice. The building stands in an oasis of more than 100 plants native to the Desert Southwest.  

This xeriscape garden features a variety of cacti, from yucca to prickly pear to ocotillo, as well as dozens of trees and shrubs.  The garden is particularly pretty when the cacti and other plants are in bloom. Plants are labeled, so they’ easily identifiable. The visitor center also has a brochure with a detailed listing of the garden’s offerings.

There’s a wide paved walkway leading though the garden. It only takes a few minutes to walk, plus the trail is wheelchair accessible.

The garden is available during visitor center open hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial through Labor days, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.

If you want to see more pictures of Cactus of the Desert Southwest, check out my YouTube slideshow.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Meet the Old West at Wickenburg, Arizona

A "prospector" roams Wickenburg's main street.

Wiclenburg, Arizona, is a pretty town, with old buildings that tell the story of its historic past. It’s located on the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert, along the Hassayampa River. 

It was founded in 1863 by Henry Wickenburg, a German immigrant who was prospecting for gold, though fur trappers roamed the area as early as the 1830s. Before that, it was home to the Yavapai Indian tribe, who didn’t much tale to the intruders. Bloody battles between the Indians and white man ensued, and the tribe was not subdued until late in 1872.

Wickenburg is peaceful today. Life appears slow placed, unlike its neighbor to the southeast, Phoenix, with its five million residents. 
Wickenburg is located on Highway 93. It’s well worth a detour, if only to see the statuary on the city streets. All pay homage to the city’s past. 

But there are plenty of other things to do here. If you’re around on Saturday morning, take a tour of the Vulture Mine, which gave up $30 million in gold. You can visit the
“jail tree” which served as the town jail for almost 30 years; prisoners weren’t locked up, but instead were chained to the tree. And if you make an appointment in advance, you can also tour Henry Wickenburg’s home. 

The chamber of commerce can offer more ideas on things to see and do in this pleasant small town.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Judge Roy Bean: the law west of the Pecos

Judge Roy Bean's saloon and "courthouse"

If Roy Bean were a judge today, he’d probably be kicked off the bench faster than you could say “the law west of the Pecos.”

He held court in his saloon, the Jersey Lilly, or outside the porch. He would interrupt court sessions to serve customers drinks.  His decisions were often quirky, such as fining an offender $30 and a round of drinks for the house, with the admonition to pay for the drinks first.


Judge Roy Bean

He had one book of Texas statutes in his law library, but rarely consulted it. Instead he made up law as he went along. He nicknamed himself “the law west of the Pecos,” and became a legend in his own time.

After his death, he was nicknamed “the hanging judge,” though he only sentenced two men to hang.  Perhaps the moniker is due more to his almost having been hanged

Lilly Langtry

himself. Prior to landing in west Texas, Bean wasn’t the most law abiding citizen.  Once friends of a man he killed strung him up and then left. The horse didn’t bolt and the bride of the man Bean killed  cut him down.

But Roy Bean also had a softer side. For years he corresponded with the British actress and femme fatale, Lilly Langtry. He named his saloon, Jersey Lilly, after her, He also claimed to have named the town where he lived, Langtry, after her, though other accounts suggest it was named for a railroad employee with the same last name.  He was always inviting her to visit “her” town, but she never made it until a few months after he died.

Bean was born in 1826 in Kentucky and died in 1903 in Texas.

The saloon where he held court can be visited in Langtry. It’s located behind a Texas tourism office and shares space with a garden devoted to Southwest desert plants.  A small museum about Bean shares space with tourism information. The site is open daily; from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

The bar where Roy Bean dispensed booze and justice

Photos by Cheryl Probst and Jon Teal

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Magnificent sculptures showcase Artesia,New Mexico, history

Artesia's Vaquero
Artesia is a town in New Mexico that might better be spelled ARTesia because of its impressive collection of street art. 

 Just driving round the downtown area you’ll see a series of bronze sculptures that depict the history of the city. Murals and other art enhance Artesia’s likeability. 

But it is the bronze sculptures that are the most impressive. They include oil rig workers, a school teacher, a cattle drive boss, rustlers and, my favorite, the Vaquero.  

Vaqueros or Spanish cowboys loomed large in Artesia’s heritage. This magnificent sculpture is the second of three statues in the Cattle Drive series that depicts cattle ranching in the 1880s in the Pecos Valley. The others are the Trail Boss and the Rustler. The Vaquero is located at Second and Main.

Part of the Vaquero sculpture

 The Vaquero was sculpted by Michael Hamby and unveiled in 2008.

Just a short distance away at Second and Texas, the Cattle Rustler plies his trade in a roundabout.It is the final sculpture in the Cattle Drive series.

The Rustler

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Apache Traiil: scenic route through Arizona's Superstition Mountains

The Apache Trail

If you’re looking for a scenic drive through mountainous desert terrain, then the Apache Trail fills the bill. State Highway 88, the road’s official name, runs through Arizona’s famous Superstition Mountains, It is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive through mountainous desert terrain, then the Apache Trail fills the bill. State Highway 88, the road’s official name, runs through Arizona’s famous Superstition Mountains, It is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona.

Apache Trail starts at Apache Junction, 35 miles east of Phoenix, and basically ends 43 miles later at Theodore Roosevelt Lake, though Globe, south on Highway 188, is considered the official end. 

The trail follows the route used by Apache Indians on horseback as they moved around the desert. Later, stage coaches would travel the road.  A more formal road was completed in 1905. It is Arizona’s first historic highway.

From high above, you’ll look down on the blue Salt River and several of its reservoirs, heavily used by fishermen and a variety of watercraft.  There are at least three boat launches along the way.

A majority of the road is dirt, with switchbacks and sharp turns, narrow and steep. The views, however, are absolutely amazing.  The road is essentially open all year, though you’ll probably want to avoid it during the summer rainy season because mud may make some places impassable.  March and April, before the weather gets too hot, is a good time to drive it because the landscape is ablaze with gaily colored wildflowers.

Driving along the Salt River

Driving the Apache Trail is to be savored, not rushed, though rushing it would be difficult since speeds are limited to 10 mph or 15 mph. It took us three hours to drive the dirt road portion of the trail. That included a stop for a picnic lunch at a lakeside campground, plenty of stops for photos and at pull-offs to allow oncoming traffic to pass by, and stopping for a traffic jam caused by an RV bus towing a car that broke down.

Because of sharp turns, steep hills, one-lane bridges and narrow roads, it’s not a good idea to take a large RV over the Apache Trail. Really big RVs make it difficult for smaller, oncoming cars to get by.

Awesome scenery along the Apache Trail

At the west end of the trail, you’ll pass by Tortilla Flat, Lost Dutchman State Park, Canyon Lake, the reconstructed ghost town of Goldfield, and the Superstition Museum/Apacheland.

Tips for driving the Apache Trail:

1.    Take along a picnic lunch to enjoy on the way. There are plenty of lookouts with picnic tables along the way.

2.    Take along toilet paper and hand sanitizer or water to wash your hands. There are several restrooms along the route, but none have water and most were out of toilet paper.

3.    If you don’t have nerves of steel, you may want to drive east from Apache Junction. This means you’ll have the inside next to the hills and mountains. If you drive west from Roosevelt Lake, as we did, you’ll be on the outside overlooking the canyons. Guardrails are few and far between. Most of the time there are just dirt berms between you and the drop-off.

You can see more photos of the Apache Trail on my YouTube channel,

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nogales, Mexico, draws tourists for shopping, drug smugglers and illegal immigrants

A small square near the border
Nogales, Mexico, beckons tourists from the United States hoping to score big bargains in the shopping arena or who want to score cheap dental care. It also beckons drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, both of which are arrested and/or deported on a daily basis.

The U.S. Border Patrol station in Nogales, Arizona, is responsible for 27 miles of boundary between the United States and Mexico. It is the second largest station in the United States.

This Sonoran city of about 150,000 people has a reputation tarnished by the drug activity and illegals trying to escape to the United States. Visitors are cautioned not to wander more than a few blocks away from the border crossing. Since most visitors only come for the day that is not a problem as dozens of dental offices and souvenir shops are right there.

Nogales is the second Mexican border town we’ve visited in the last two years. The other is Los Algodones, about eight miles west of Yuma.

A pleasant shopping area
 The two towns are quite different, both in demeanor and the variety of tourist goods they sell. The vendors are more aggressive in Los Algodones, while we thought the Nogales shopkeepers were much friendlier. In Los Algodones, there was a wider variety of merchandise available. In Nogales, we couldn’t even find a souvenir T-shirt, but we did find a wide variety of metal painted sculptures.

In either city, you will need to bargain hard for the best prices, which we thought were cheaper in Los Algodones. Ever since we moved to the Southwest, I’ve been taken with the metal sculptures and have been pricing them.
My $20 metal cactus
Since U.S. shops only accept stated prices, I thought th
ey’d be cheaper in Mexico where they’re made.  Not true. The asking price in Nogales was about double the price in the United States.

I finally found a small metal cactus that I liked and began the bargaining process – I honed my haggling skills living in China, where bargaining is a fact of daily life in street markets. The vendor wanted $95 – I asked if this was pesos, and it wasn’t. I offered $20, which he finally accepted after 15 minutes of arguing.

If you’re shopping in Mexico, don’t assume the $ sign in front of numbers means the price is in U.S. dollars. Always ask, since Mexicans use the dollar sign in front of pesos. We found a lot of money changing offices in Nogales, but shops and restaurants accept U.S. dollars.

The border at Nogales is a walk-across border open 24 hours a day. Be prepared to walk a few blocks from your car in Nogales, Arizona, to the border. On-street parking is metered, but there are several lots charging anywhere from $3 to $6 to park for the day.

Cattle skulls are a popular item

Shoppers check out the goods

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Arizona monument honors Melvin Jones, founder of Lions Club

Melvin Jones memorial
Seemingly out in the middle of nowhere on a highway through rural Arizona is a stunningly simple stone obelisk that reaches to the sky.

The obelisk is a memorial dedicated to Melvin Jones, the man who founded Lions Club. It is located along Highway 70 at Fort Thomas, the place where Jones was born in 1879. His father was an Army officer stationed at the fort and involved in fighting Indians. Fort Thomas is located between Globe and Safford.

In 1917, Jones, then a Chicago insurance agent, would found the Lions Club, a civic organization that spread worldwide with its major charter being sight conservation.

The Fort Thomas spire in his honor is 50 feet high. Memorial slabs flank the front. Behind them are more memorial tablets bearing the names of Lions Club members.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Goldfield, Arizona: replica of an old ghost town

Goldfield GhostTown
For about five years, Goldfield, Arizona, was a booming town with 4,000 residents. Then the gold played out and it became a ghost town.

Gold was discovered around 1892. It wasn’t a high grade of ore, but the mines were considered some of the richest in the world at that time. In 1890s dollars, around $3 million was taken out of the mines. That was a lot of money for that time. That figure translates to $80 million in today’s dollars.

By 1898, the gold had been mined out, and people left. The post office closed that year, too.

Located a few miles northeast of Apache Junction, Goldfield Ghost Town is a thriving tourist attraction. It’s not on the original town site, but nearby on the Goldfield Mill hill.

Old shovels artistically displayed
Reconstructed buildings include a saloon, a couple of eateries, church, sheriff’s office/jail and small shops. It’s free to wander through the dirt-street town, but the museums charge admission, and there’s a charge to ride the only narrow gauge railroad in Arizona.

Rusty mining equipment can be found throughout the town. This equipment is perhaps more interesting to see than the buildings, some of which appear to be very old.

Gunfights take place hourly on the town’s only street on weekend.  The gunfights aren’t as believable as those staged in Tombstone or Old Tucson, but kids will enjoy them.

The Superstition Mountain Museum and Apacheland buildings are just a mile away, so a visit to them and Goldfield could easily make a good day outing.

Goldfield Ghost Town

Gunfight at Goldfield

Old mining equipment

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lake Roosvelt, Arizona, offers outdoor fun

Lake Roosevelt from Tonto National Monument
Roosevelt Lake is a welcome patch of blue amidst the dusty greens and browns that is a central Arizona.
It’s a man-made lake, at one time the largest in the world, that’s named for President Teddy Roosevelt. It was created in 1911 when the Salt River was damned. It’s since been eclipsed by Lake Powell and Lake Mead on the Colorado River. Still, it is the third largest lake in Arizona. When it was constructed, Roosevelt Dam was the highest masonry dam in the world.
The lake is 22 miles long, though not all of it is visible from Highway 188. It’s more than 300 feet deep at its deepest. It’s the first and largest of the lakes created on the Salt River.
If you want to see stunning views of the lake, head up to Tonto National Monument, just up the hill from the lake.
Lake Roosevelt is popular with outdoors recreationalists. Fishermen like it for the trophy largemouth bass as well as smallmouth bass, crappie and channel catfish. It’s also got some nice beaches for camping. Water sports enthusiasts enjoy waterskiing, jet skiing, swimming and general boating.
Roosevelt Lake is about 30 miles from Globe on Highway 188. Visitors coming from Phoenix can take Apache Trail, a scenic route that takes you through the Superstition Mountains; there’s a lengthy section of dirt road on this section of Highway 188.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Living in the cliffs at Tonto National Monument

Cliff dwellings -- National Park Service photo
If you dig archaeological ruins, then you’ll want to visit Tonto National Monument in central Arizona where the Salado peoples lived in cliff dwellings.

For 10,000 years, the Tonto Basin of the northern Sonoran Desert has provided a home to ancient peoples.  The most recent were the Salados, who blended the best of other Native Americans living in the region into their own unique culture.  While the Tonto Salados carved their homes out of the cliffs, the Salados built stone houses above ground just 25 miles away at Besh Ba Gowah in Globe.

There are two cliff dwelling settlements at Tonto National Monument. The lower dwelling is open all year round, while the upper dwelling can only be visited from November to April.

The Salads lived at Tonto for about 250 years from the 13th to 15 centuries. Then, like their counterparts at Besh Ba Gowah and the Hohokam at Casa Grande NationalMonument, they disappeared. They left behind their colorful pottery and high-quality weavings, which can be seen at the monument’s visitor center/museum. You can see an informative video about the Salados and Tonto on the upper deck of the visitor center.

Tonto National Monument, operated by the National Park Service, is open daily, only closing on Christmas Day.  Do note that if you’re visiting in the hot summer months, your footwear will be checked – flip flops are not allowed because they’ll melt on the hot asphalt walk up to the cliff dwellings.

The trail up is paved, making it handicapped accessible. It’s rather steep, so wheelchair users should make sure they have good brakes for the trip down.

It takes about a half-hour to get to Tonto from Globe. Take Highway 188 out of Globe.

The way up may be steep, but the views are great!