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, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VT5Sbd036ls.




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!