Shootouts, Mining Towns, and Haunts of Dead Writers

March 13 – 20, 2019

Cautiously optimistic about winter being over, we began our trek eastward from Tucson, stopping for a few nights in the small town of Benson, Arizona. The campground was, uh, “questionable” with ramshackle campers that had obviously been there a while, including a Fleetwood Bounder that was probably used in Breaking Bad as well as a matching fifth wheel. It turned out to be an ok park, if a little noisy.

We chose Benson for it’s proximity to a couple of places we wanted to go check out, the first being Tombstone, the town famous for the shootout at the OK Corral with Wyatt Earp and company. We had been there before so we didn’t feel the need to explore the town or watch the gunfight reenactment. After grabbing a burger at Big Nose Kate’s we headed straight to the Tombstone Brewing Company for a few samples which turned into a few more samples which turned into a few pints and after a night of lively conversation with patrons and the staff we left well after closing. They claim to have the best beer in Arizona and I’m not going to dispute that.

Tombstone Brewing Company

I have mixed feelings about Tombstone, on one hand it’s full of original historic buildings but it’s a major tourist trap which completely ruins any old west ambience. Tombstone’s motto is “The Town too Tough to Die” but it’s certainly not too tough to pander to tourists. Only after sundown when the tourists flock to their buses and flee the town can you walk down the deserted streets and imagine what it was like in the wild west days.

Tombstone in the dead of night

Our next destination was south to Patagonia, winter home of Michigan writer Jim Harrison and where he died with a pen in his hand. Ever since visiting the Hemingway house in Key West I’ve been compelled to visit the haunts of writers on our travels. Fun fact: When he lived in Michigan Harrison would frequently travel to Key West in the winter where he would hang out with the likes of Jimmy Buffet. All roads lead back to Key West. The road to Patagonia, while not anything like the road to Key West, was surprisingly scenic and a nice change from the barren desert. We stopped in at the Wagon Wheel Saloon where a picture of Harrison sits on the fireplace. It’s easy to see why he liked the place, it could have been any place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Mountains near Patagonia
Wagon Wheel Saloon

The final day trip of our stay in Benson was to Bisbee, an old mining town built into the mountains with an iconic main street and now full of art galleries and shops. Wandering into the David Kachel Photography gallery we encountered a bowl of dog treats and a sign informing us that the ferocious dog must be appeased before we could enter. That “ferocious dog” turned out to be a timid Lab that could barely muster the courage to come and get a treat. 

Main Street Bisbee

After a few hours of walking around I was getting thirsty so after walking up Brewery Avenue we came upon, oddly enough, Old Bisbee Brewing Company. 

Old Bisbee Brewing Company

After a flight at the brewery we drove over to check out the open pit mine when something that looked like an old gas pump caught my eye. Driving down some side roads we discovered the town of Lowell. Well, it’s not really a town anymore. The town of Lowell was swallowed up by the mine in the 1950’s leaving behind just a section of downtown along Erie Street which is preserved to look as it did the the 50’s complete with old cars and a Greyhound Bus. 

Lavender Pit Copper Mine
Erie Street in Lowell. It was eerie indeed.
Greyhound, er, Strayhound Bus
Lowell Harley storefront

Bisbee marked our last exploration in Arizona. Bring on New Mexico!

Two Weeks in Tucson

February 27 – March 13, 2019

After riding out the worst of winter in Yuma and just missing the freak desert snowstorm of February 22, it was time for us to begin our trek eastward. After the relative desolation and endless lettuce fields of Yuma, we decided to stay in Tucson for 2 weeks to get reacquainted with civilization.

But not too much though, as Tucson has some cool outdoor activities, such as the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum where you can see most of the animals that always are hiding when you’re out in the “real” desert.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Tucson, AZ
Javalinas at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Don’t call them pigs, they don’t like that.

And in addition to getting reacquainted with civilization, we sought out ways to destroy it.

Titan Missile Museum
Underground corridor from the control room to the missile silo, Titan Missile Museum
Titan Missle Launch Controls. The button didn’t work.

After never finding a rattlesnake out in the desert, we finally found one downtown.

Not too far from our campground we found this neat little place with the wordy name of Gadsen-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum.

Of course we had to go for a hike in Saguaro National Park…

Saguaro National Park

and stalk Great Horned Owls during their nap time…

A few months earlier we had made a day trip to Tucson to visit the Kon Tiki, this time we went to The Hut, another tiki bar with a giant Moai head that’s almost big enough to live in. Our next house will be a giant tiki head.

The Hut

Driving around the outskirts of the city we stopped at the old Spanish mission San Xavier del Bac,

and drove up to the top of Mt. Lemmon where there was still a couple feet of snow. Let me tell you, the snow here is way better than Michigan snow because when you get tired of it just turn around and head back down the mountain.

Mt. Lemmon
Snow in the visitor’s center parking lot near the top of Mt. Lemmon

Of course we couldn’t spend some time in Tucson without hitting up some of the breweries. A short bike ride away from the campground was 1912 Brewing. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to take our bikes someplace. We tried to go to another brewery downtown but the Friday rush hour traffic was so bad we went to Dragoon which was also near the campground.

1912 Brewing Tucson, AZ
Dragoon Brewing Co. Tucson, AZ

Tucson has quite a few places to go and things to do, we weren’t able to do everything we originally planned during our 2 weeks. One question though, why does everyone dress like the homeless around here?

Our 50th (sorta) Campiversary

One night I was pondering all the campgrounds we’ve been to since we started this adventure and realized that when we got to Tucson it would our 50th campground. I started thinking wouldn’t it be cool to throw together a slideshow of all our campsites? Followed by, “dangit, I should have paid more attention and taken pictures of our campsites.”

However after searching through our photos I found my habit of randomly taking pictures of everything paid off and I was able to find a campsite picture for almost every campground we stayed at.  I also found out that Tucson wasn’t our 50th, but 54th. Whoops.

Most of the state park campgrounds were pretty nice. RV Parks were hit or miss, some were nice and some were just parking lots with everybody crammed in like sardines. Gulf State Park in Alabama was our favorite, and Florida takes honors for both the best and worst campgrounds.

Anyway here’s a slideshow of our 54 campsites since July of 2017. Enjoy!

Yuma, Arizona

January 27 – February 27, 2019

After heading south from near the Canadian border in Montana we now found ourselves near the Mexican border in the southwest corner Arizona.

Welcome to Yuma.

Yuma’s got a quaint historic downtown with a couple restaurants and shops. Of course we had to go to Prison Hill Brewery where they have Han Solo encased in carbonite behind the bar for some reason.

Prison Hill Brewery. See if you can find frozen Han Solo

We also made a stop at Red’s Bird Cage Saloon, an old school Western dive bar. Hello 1974!

Red’s Bird Cage Saloon

We had dinner at one of Yuma’s higher rated restaurants, Lute’s Casino. Which isn’t actually a casino, but an old bar decorated with all kinds of random stuff scavenged from the streets of Yuma. Tasty onion rings though.

Lute’s Casino

There’s a weekly farmers market downtown, more arts and crafts than produce but we did get to try some medjool dates which are grown in the area. We wound up going to a date farm and buying a couple pounds later.

Farmer’s Market

Yuma is about 90 miles from the Salton Sea in California, so we made a day trip there to check out Salvation Mountain and Slab City.

Salvation Mountain
Slab City Welcome Center

Slab City
Slab City

Coming to live off the grid in the middle of the desert is pretty cool, but I gotta say a lot of Slab City looks like an episode of Hoarders.

From Slab City it was about a 15 mile drive to Bombay Beach, a resort town in the 50’s and 60’s which was first flooded in the 70’s and then abandoned by the shrinking Salton Sea leaving behind a salt-encrusted mess. Surprisingly quite a few people still live there and art installations made from debris are scattered around the town.

Bombay Beach
What used to be a Bombay Beach vacation home
Salt encrusted pilings in what used to be the Bombay Beach Marina
Bomb Bay at Bombay Beach
Sea Serpent made from debris in Bombay Beach
Bombay Beach Drive-In

 

Yuma is home to the Yuma Territorial Prison, popularized in the movie “3:10 to Yuma.” Now a historic state park, you can wander around and enjoy the miserable conditions.

Jim decided he wanted to try his hand at gold prospecting but first we needed a shovel. Funny story here… we get to the checkout at the local Walmart to purchase said shovel and apparently Arizona doesn’t just sell shovels to anyone! An associate had to verify that Jim was of age (the ripe old age of 16) before selling us this lethal digging device.

There’s Gold spent ammo cases in them thar hills!

Other things to do in Yuma were a trip to a date farm

Date milkshakes at a date farm

Go to the Rodeo

Explore the ruins of gold mining town Tumco

Tumco, or what’s left of it

And visit the parks along the Colorado River

Inmate James Schaedig booked on allegedly attempting to purchase a shovel while under aged

Quartzsite, Arizona

January 21 – 27, 2019

Everyone always talks about taking their RV to Quartzsite for the winter, so after our week-long bash with XScapers we had to go there and see what all the fuss is about. Oh, and to go to the Desert Bar that we saw on some Travel Channel show a few years ago.

Driving through the mountains to the famous Desert Bar

 

The Nellie E Saloon, A.K.A The Desert Bar

We paid a visit to the last camp of Hi Jolly.

The “Naked Guy Bookstore” or so they say, we were turned away the first time and the only guys on site the second time were authors of various western themed books we tried so hard to show interest in yet not be guilted into a pity purchase.  FYI they weren’t naked either!  

The RV show was going on while we where there, set up in the Big Tent, filled with vendors selling everything from sunshades to sugar gliders,

and nearby vendors where you could add to your collection of skulls and antlers,

and finally a stop at Beer Bellys to visit Lou and Nancy!

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

January 12-20, 2019

Our first Xscaper’s convergence, the 2019 Xscapers Bash

So much fun stuff

Beer!

 

Corndogs!

Then the rain came.

 

After several days of cold and rainy weather we took advantage of a break in the weather to hike up the tabletop mountain, a.k.a. Lizard Peak.

Hiking, that’s how it’s described in the brochure but this was certainly mountain climbing territory and I had the bumps, bruises, and scrapes to prove it!  

Yes, there actually is a table at the top!

The Bash was filled with informative and entertaining presentations.

Jim preparing for the Margarita Throwdown!  His mixology skills earned him 18 gold coins landing him somewhere in the top 5

Last but not least the Rave!

Casa Grande, Arizona

November 10, 2018 – January 10, 2019

We spent two months in Casa Grande, AZ.

Casa Grande is apparently best known for having the ruins of a failed computer factory built as a series of domes.

      

A day trip to find this cool Tiki Bar in Tucson was a MUST!  This place was great, the decor, the drinks, and the people felt like a mini escape from the desert.

A couple of breweries to check out…

Four Peaks Brewing Co, Tempe

The Perch Brewery Chandler has a somewhat tropical setting complete with live rescued birds.

We made a couple trips into Chandler which has a lively downtown area.

Unfortunately the polar vortex reached all the way down to Arizona and there were quite a few cold days, but at least it wasn’t 30 below.

Compared to Chandler, Casa Grande’s downtown was more like a ghost town but they did have an electric lights Christmas parade with around 100 floats. Back in Michigan I never would have survived the cold long enough to see more than a quarter of that.

One of the sad things about Arizona is so many people think it’s acceptable to dump garbage out in the desert. Anywhere you go in the desert you’ll find furniture, appliances and piles of trash.

But if you overlook all the trash you’ll see colorful sunsets that are always different.

We made a visit to Casa Grande National Monument, ruins of a pueblo dating back to the 13th century. 

We did some 4-wheeling around the Silver Reef Mountains, checking out old mine sites.

One day we learned about another thing in Arizona that can kill you besides the rattlesnakes and scorpions: Bee swarms. They attacked our hummingbird feeder for a few minutes then suddenly left.

Not too far away from our campground was Villago Park, a man-made oasis in the desert. While it was a nice place to go for a walk, it pretty much finalized our decision of where to go for next winter: back to Florida.

Apache Junction , Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, AZ was a pleasant and very scenic park.  Convenient trails leading from our campsite were a bonus, both us and the dogs throughly enjoyed them.  

The sunsets did not disappoint

Aside from the park the Goldfield Ghost Town was their main attraction.  

A trip to find the nearest breweries took us to Chandler, AZ.

 

Camp Verde, Arizona

October 29 – November 5, 2018

Coming down from the mountains of Flagstaff we stopped for a week in Camp Verde, Arizona. At an altitude of nearly 4000 feet lower us flatlanders could finally breathe a little easier.

We stayed at Zane Grey RV Park which turned out to be quite nice. Although the sites weren’t much bigger than most rv parks creative use of fencing and trees made each site seem much more private.

Next door to the park a trail winds it’s way through a field of volcanic rubble and a Cottonwood forest to West Clear Creek. Imagine, that, flowing water in Arizona that’s not the Colorado River!

We took a couple day trips around the area, including Montezuma Castle, Sedona, and the mining town of Jerome.

Montezuma’s Castle
Red rocks near Sedona
Headframe Park, Jerome
Bartlett Hotel, Jerome
Jerome
Main Street Jerome

Jerome is one of those towns that took the route of boom town to ghost town and finally to tourist trap. The streets are narrow and buildings are awkwardly built helter skelter on the side of a mountain. There’s a pretty good mix of abandoned buildings, restaurants, tourist shops, and art. It’s great.

Wiener Dog Art, Jerome

And of course we had to check out a couple nearby breweries in the area, first to THAT Brewery (yes that’s the name) in Cottonwood.

THAT Brewery, Cottonwood

Alas, the promised food truck didn’t show up so after a flight of samples we headed back to Camp Verde and stopped at Verde Brewing Company for some more samples and tasty sandwiches. The breweries are located in sparsely decorated warehouses in industrial parks, reminding me of the early days of craft beer in Michigan. At Verde Brewing we sat a few feet away from bubbling fermenters and it felt like we were just hanging out at some home brewer’s garage which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially when the beer is good.

Flagstaff, Arizona

October 25 – 29, 2018

We’ve been here before, this well known city on Route 66 in the middle of Northern Arizona. Only this time we’re not heading east to west but north to south. And with some trepidation, as Flagstaff sits at 6900 feet and gets cold and quite a bit of snow and here we are at the tail end of October trying to avoid those very things. Fortunately the Arizona sun held out for the entirety of our 4 night stay keeping things warm in spite of some frosty mornings. We stayed at the KOA which provided a background of mountains and pine trees for taking moonrise shots.

Flagstaff has something we haven’t seen in a while, a historic and vibrant downtown, with shops, restaurants, music, and breweries.

Finally we had a chance to resume our Friday night brewery tradition at the Mother Road Brewing Company. Good beer and good pizza from the next door pizza shop, Pizzicletta.

We must have been suffering from brewery deprivation so after leaving Mother Road we wandered around the corner only to find ourselves at Beaver Street Brewery for another round. Flagstaff is a great place to visit, at least for us when it’s warm and not snowing.