Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Arizona Snowbirds

Here we are well into 2015.We’ve been hanging for the last couple of days in Roadhaven, a retirement community in Apache Junction, Arizona. Our friend Bette Story lives here in the winter as do many of the extended King family from San Juan Island. They are all active tennis players and card fiends and find many activities to fill their winter days on and off this bucolic campus. 

We arrived here after enjoying two wonderful Arizona state parks: Catalina and Lost Dutchman, places filled with over-wintering snowbirds. At Catalina State Park we exercised our new-found comfort with dark skies and ventured a half mile down the pitch black “Bridle Trail” to attend an amateur astronomer’s talk about the moon. Luna shone upon us in her fullness as we joined the circle and it was fun to learn about the landscape as well as reminded of human interactions with her over the last few decades. Then we all marched up the road on an “expedition to the moon” as a roll of fabric marked with thousands of miles was unfurled before us. At the end we landed on the moon, actually a couple of king size sheets lovingly trimmed out to show the lunar landscape. On the way back to earth we asked if anyone could give us a lift back to Campground B. 

And that’s how we became acquainted with Barak and Joe who used to own a B&B in Index, Washington. Figuring the Seattle gay Jewish community was fairly small, we soon discovered we had friends in common. They sold their business and hit the road about the same time we did last year, traveling with a cute little trailer called a “Burro.” Barak has posted a couple of blog posts about their adventures ( which feature spectacular photos of Colorado fall colors and illustrate the sweet personalities of our new friends.  

Faywood Hotsprings, here we come
Before entering Arizona, we stopped at Faywood Hot Springs near Silver City, New Mexico. Since we had those two snow experiences in Texas we were ready to get thoroughly warmed up and went out of our way to visit these historic springs. At the gate we were met by an enthusiastic young person who described the different hot spring pools and cautioned us on which were “clothing optional.” A little surprised, we asked if there were separate facilities for men and women and she cheerfully informed us, no, it was all co-ed. So after securing Lilypad to power we gamely grabbed towels, left the swim suits in the rig, proceeded up to the pools and plunged into an unoccupied pool. It was dark by then, and we were warmly welcomed by several men of unknown ages, in the pool next to us, who carried on a lively conversation, asking us about our travels. The soak was wonderful and we felt pretty smug about the whole encounter, reminding ourselves we didn’t have to deal with the prospect of wet swim suits in the motor home. We slept well that night.

Desert arboretum near Superior, AZ
In between those Arizona state parks, we boondocked in Tonto National Forest, a beautiful Sonoran desert landscape of bold Saguaro (pronounced sah-wa-roh) cactus, prickly pears, and pale Cholla cactus. We have taken some time here in Arizona to learn about these plants that are so foreign to our Pacific Northwest eyes, both at the Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson and at the Bryce Thompson Arboretum near Superior. The arboretum property was originally developed in the 1920s by a wealthy mine owner who had come to the realization that plants were essential to the well-being of human kind and created a sophisticated system of gardens and irrigation. He also was responsible for Arizona’s first legislation to recognize nonprofit corporations and subsequently turned his investment over to the entity that still operates this beautiful place.
Returned to the desert for posterity
Our boondock site was off a Forest Service road nearby. In the morning we hiked one of the trails looking at rocks. One of the pieces Liz picked up showed signs of having been worked by human hands, and, after admiring it from all angles, we relegated it to the protective arms of a robust prickly pear.

Another interesting Arizona detour was a visit to Biosphere 2, a relic from the 1980’s when people with more money than they knew what to do with decided to experiment with closed systems for habitation.
Surreal architecture of Biosphere 2 (Earth is #1)
Eight Biospherians were locked up in a huge structure for two years with the task of growing their own food, tending animals, and maintaining complex systems that managed their oxygen and CO2. Many lessons were learned, not the least of which is that humans get cranky if deprived of sufficient oxygen and nutrition. The Biosphere structure is now owned by the University of Arizona as a research and conference facility and we paid to tour its five existing biomes and hear about the current research, as well as the two attempts by humans to live in it. The structure actually is very impressive, but we came away feeling the whole thing was an overpriced artifact, the interpretation was poor, and one has to go to the internet to find the real story.

This is art in Bisbee, AZ. Mine tailings in the background.
And one more remarkable site along the way was the town of Bisbee. Mining of copper, zinc, silver and gold has had a tremendous historical impact on southeast Arizona, and we saw several operational mines as we drove up through the state The town of Bisbee is actually surrounded by a (now closed) open pit mine, and half a dozen communities teeter on the brink of the mine’s gigantic craters. Each little enclave was originally the home to one ethnic group or another, recruited to work successively in the mine. Nowadays the historic downtown is a bustling tourist destination, with many antique dealers, art galleries, ghost tours and museums. Our first destination in Bisbee was the community co-op that resided on a butte separate from the main downtown. As we pulled onto Erie Street we found antique cars parked outside of defunct gas stations and shuttered businesses. As we looked closer we discovered the whole block, with the exception of the co-op and a couple of viable motor-related businesses, was one huge art installation. Historic Harleys were propped up beside ancient station wagons, pickup trucks, and Chevys. Old time commercial signage proclaimed services that had long disappeared. It was fun to randomly discover a place that obviously is a destination for a lot of people, but we could only stare at one another and say, “Who knew?”
So we have been trying on the role of snow birds but that will soon end. What’s next? Who knows?