Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014...A Year in Review - 12/31/14

When I asked John how he would describe 2014, being a man of few words, he said" "Fantastic!" Yep, that about sums it up! However, I am more verbose and feel compelled to provide more details.

  • We settled on our house; and sold most stuff, giving our treasured items to family. 
  • Our full-time RV life began February 21. What a great decision. We have never regretted it.
  • We established residency in Fl for the tax, vehicle registration/inspection, and driver's license advantages.
  • Our first month was spent in St. Augustine (ocean!) and seeing amazing historical landmarks.

  • We stayed in Cedar Key, FL; San Antonio; Amarillo, TX; northeastern NM; and Colorado Springs areas.
  • Some of the highlights of things we saw are: Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge; The Alamo; the Missions in TX; Palo Duro Canyon; the musical, TEXAS; Capulin Volcano National Monument; Vietnam War Memorial Park in Angel Fire, NM; Taos, NM; Air Force Academy; Cheyenne Zoo; Garden of the Gods; Pikes Peak, Will Rogers Shrine; and various state parks.
  • The RV park where we stayed in Colorado Springs was fantastic as we saw wildlife almost every day in and around our site. 
  • Estes Park near the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park was our next stop. The park is of our favorite places. 
  • Then onto Custer, SD; Devils Tower, WY; Garryowen, MT; West Yellowstone, MT; Heber City, UT; and Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Custer was a great home base to see the beautiful Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave and Wind Cave National Parks, We also explored Spearfish, Deadwood, and Sturgis (the week before the motorcycle rally!)  
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was so interesting and the addition of the Native American Memorial is beautiful (and appropriate).
  • From West Yellowstone, we explored the huge Yellowstone National Park with more hydrothermal features than any place on earth. The beautiful Canyon area, Lake area, and Old Faithful Inn (and geyser) are amazing. And while visiting Yellowstone, it is definitely worth the trip to Grand Teton National Park due South. Thanks to Lynn and Peggy for the tour.
  • Heber City was a one-week stopover before the Grand Canyon. There is so much more to see in Utah, that we will definitely be back to visit the many national parks in the state.
  • We stayed in the Village in the Grand Canyon National Park. We saw wildlife every day at our site. And what can I say about the Canyon, it's unfathomable! Pictures do not effectively capture the enormity and beauty of it.
  • From the Grand Canyon we went to Pahrump, NV, for a two-month stay. In the Mojave Desert, we experienced for the first time the beauty and solitude of the desert. We visited many areas of Death Valley National Park from this location; a place of extremes and fantastic landscape features. 
  • We also loved visiting and hiking in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and Valley of Fire State Park.
  • Amanda and Justine visited us and they took us to Vegas for two fantastic shows: Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah's and Zarkana (Cirque) at Aria. What fun we had showing them the natural wonders of the area as well as Hoover Dam.
  • Our final stop for the year is in Tucson, AZ, and we will be here until 1/20/15. So far we have enjoyed the fabulous National Parks (Saguaro, Tucson Mountain District; Saguaro, Rincon Mountain District; and Organ Pipe National Park). as well as the beautiful state parks.
I fear my corporate career is influencing me here as I always did a year end summary of my department using lots of statistics. So I cannot resist, a bit of the same here for our first full-time RVing year. So here are some factoids:
  • Miles driven in Monaco Monarch motor coach (34'): 4,700
  • Miles driven in Mini Cooper automobile (towed; vehicle used to explore locally): 13,000
  • Number of RV Parks where we stayed (excluding overnight boondocking): 16
  • Places visited:
    • 16 Museums (Historical, local, etc.)
    • 15 State Parks
    • 13 National Monuments
    • 11 National Parks
    • 09 Art Museums
    • 08 Botanical Gardens
    • 07 National Wildlife Refuges
    • 05 Zoological Parks
In summary, we have thoroughly enjoyed seeing more of this beautiful country. There are so many amazing sights to see...they seem endless! In 2015 we will be traveling back east to see family, friends, and our medical providers the first 9 months of the year. Then we expect to find our way to the southwest for the winter. We will continue to see the sights wherever we go.

Our retirement mantra remains: "Live as if there is no tomorrow. Learn as if you will live forever." And that's what we intend to keep doing for as long as we can.

Happy New Year to you!

Oracle State Park - 12/19/14

This state park is on 4,000 acres of the northeastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains near Tucson. We stopped here for some hiking with Sadie after visiting the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

When we arrived at the entrance the gates were closed because the park is only open Saturdays and Sundays. The Kannally ranch house is open for tours then.
The park has 15 miles of hiking trails; some permit dogs, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Others are reserved for hikers only.

There was a sign on the gates that some trails can be accessed from a parking area near the intersection of Rte 77 and American Avenue seven days a week. We drove around a bit and found the area where the trailheads are.

We hiked along the Power Line Trail (that connects to the Arizona Trail) for about a mile. Here are some views from there.

Sadie had a blast exploring this area. We saw no other hikers on the trails.

Loved this view with the mountains in the distance. It was a glorious, sunny day!

Next we explored the Cherry Valley Wash area.

Lots of wide open space for Sadie to run (making her very thirsty!!)

Multiple other trails (Maricopa and Arizona) connect to the Cherry Valley Wash. When it rains, this area is, of course, filled with flowing water.

The day-use fee for Oracle State Park is $7/vehicle. There was a self-pay station where we entered the park on a weekday. At the main entrance is a station where you pay. A Gift Shop and the Kannally Ranch House is also located near that area.

Check out their website for additional information on things to do there:

As we were leaving the are, a coyote crossed the road in front of us. I caught a picture of him in the grasslands...

We hear coyotes at night and have seen them in captivity, but this is the first one we have seen in the wild. A nice ending to an enjoyable day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument - 12/29/14

This national monument preserves the remains of an ancient Hohokam farming village including the Great House or Casa Grande.

The Great House is 4 stories on interior walls and 60' long. It is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert. It was discovered by Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary priest, who started several missions while exploring this area of the country in the late 1600s. It was he who named the structure, Casa Grande.

Located about 60 miles north of Tucson, we began our tour of the monument with a stop at the Visitor Center.

You can pick up information about the monument at the Visitor Center and there is a small gift shop. Interesting exhibits can be found inside as well as a theatre area to view the 20-minute video about the ruins here.

The Hohokam (or Ancestral People) lived in this community from 300 BC through 1450 AD. They built extensive and complex irrigation systems to grow crops (food and cotton) using water from the Gila River. They also participated in trade with communities from California, the Great Plains, Colorado Plateau and Northern Mexico.

Olla, used to hold water or store food, was found during the excavations in 1906 near the Great House.

Obsidian, used to create tools, likely arrived here through trade.

Interior of typical dwelling with pottery, baskets, woven rugs, etc.

Pottery ranging from 300 BC to 1400 AD.


The Casa Grande Ruins were designated a federal preserve in 1892 to protect it from the souvenir-seekers and visitors who carved their initials on the interior walls. In 1903, a small roof was placed over the Great House and in 1932, a much larger roof was built and remains on the site today.

The building was also stabilized at that time with interior steel poles.

Interior walls.

The walls face the cardinal points of the compass (north, south, east and west). A circular hole in the upper west wall is aligned with the setting sun on the summer solstice.

The Great House was built within a walled compound where the foundations of other structures remain.

There is a lovely large picnic area across from the Visitor Center. From this location you can see the area where the ball court had been built. There were multiple walled compounds in the area and the ball court was shared among them. This part of the monument has not yet been excavated.

The picnic area also has a large, well-equipped outdoor kitchen. Reservations can be made at the Visitor Center for its use.

The admission fee to the Casa Grande Ruins is $5/adult. John's senior pass gets us in for free.

This is a small, but interesting, national monument. We enjoy visiting these national treasures preserved by the National Park Service. The videos are always very informative, and this one was no exception. The exhibits in the Visitor Center are very well done and educational.

The Native Americans who lived and thrived in the Sonoran Desert for centuries are so interesting. The fact that this structure was built so many years ago and is still standing in the desert climate is an amazing tribute to the builders.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ruby Ghost Town - 12/27/14

We had read about this ghost mining town on-line, but there is very little information available about it. Ruby is about 80 miles southwest of Tucson and 4 miles north of the Mexican border.  To get there, drive to Arivaca, AZ and turn due south onto South Fraguita Road. At the Y in the road, bear to the left onto Ruby Road. Ruby is about 12 miles south of Arivaca. Ruby Road is a dirt road for the last 6 miles. Keep an eye out for the simple wooden sign on the left side of the road.

At the wooden sign, turn right into Ruby through the gates where you will see this sign.

The only resident is the caretaker. Continue into the ghost town and turn right up the hill to find the caretaker. Admission is $12/person and he will ask you to fill out a form stating that they are not liable for any injury, etc. The site is actually quite a mess with lots of residual debris around the buildings that are in poor condition, although you are permitted to explore them if desired. The caretaker also provided us with a map of the site and a paper that provides a great summary of the place, its history, and biological heritage.

A restoration foundation, the Ruby Mines Restoration Project, has been established that seeks donations and grants for preserving buildings, history and habitat of the area. Work is underway to stabilize the primary buildings of Ruby.

At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the area has rugged mountains, semi-arid deserts, and abundant wildlife.

The first mining strike in the Montana vein here was in the late 1870s. By 1900, Ruby had become the largest mining camp in the area. A post office existed in Ruby from 1910 through 1940. At its peak in the mid-1920s, about 1,200 people lived in Ruby. Most lived in tents on the hillsides with 300 of the population working as miners. The mine yielded lead, zinc, copper and lesser amounts of gold and silver. When the mine closed in 1940, the town quickly declined. Ruby is owned by a group of families today who are interested in maintaining the remaining buildings and making the town available as a recreation area (fishing, hiking, camping).

This area of Ruby was known as "Snob Hill," although the homes are very modest.

Remains of two bunk houses were a boarding house for single men. Four men shared a small room ... two rooms per building.

Ruby Lake is in the center of town. It frequently dries up during the summer and autumn months, but due to some recent rains in the area, the lake was beautiful when we visited yesterday. Fishing is permitted for a daily fee of $18 paid to the caretaker.

Sadie ran right into the lake as soon as she saw it!

Hutchinson House, where the master mechanic lived who kept the mill operational.

Foundations of the mill.

John was checking out the remains in the filing cabinet (he is so funny). Mostly there were manuals about equipment in there.

Assay office (where extracted ore was weighed to determine value).

Headframe, hoist and vertical shaft. The vertical shaft dropped 750 feet carrying miners down into the lead mine. There were 3 shifts a day 7 days a week. 15 tons of ore were extracted each day.

Warehouse where tools and small equipment were housed.

Deep, open mine shaft.

There is a second smaller mine shaft very near to the first one.

In the early summer months bats emerge at dusk from the mine shafts. It is estimated that there is a colony of about 500,000 Mexican Freetail bats here.

The Ruby School built in 1916 with additional rooms added subsequently is shown below. At its peak in 1936 there were 150 students in grades 1-8.

Remnants of playground.

School outhouses.

The Ruby Jail cost $600 to build in 1936. Before the jail was existed, criminals were chained to the mesquite trees.

Ruby Mercantile was the 3rd store built in Ruby. This was also the location of the post office.

Antique dump truck.

Rolling hills and Montana Peak in the distance.

Deer seen on a hill as we were departing Ruby.

The town is surrounded by the Coronado National Forest.

Exploring this town was interesting, but this place will be much more pleasant to visit when it gets cleaned up (removal of debris). Interpretive signs would be helpful as well. It is difficult to follow the map provided. The mine shafts were fascinating but they were not easy to find. The place is now a National Historic Site and I am hopeful that the foundation recently formed will be successful in restoring and maintaining the site.

It is in a remote location and very little information is readily available about it, although some claim it is the best ghost town in Southern Arizona. Nonetheless, we had a good day exploring it. It was a cool, crisp day.

And one of the best parts about this place is that dogs are welcomed and can be off-leash. I would suggest that you pack a picnic lunch because there are no restaurants nearby. We did see one in Arivaca on our return trip, but enjoyed a picnic lunch at Ruby.

You can read more about Ruby at this website: