Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saguro National Park (East) - 11/28/14

Today we visited the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. The western part of the park is in the Tucson Mountain District with the city of Tucson in between the two.

The higher elevations here create a very different Sonoran Desert environment from the western park, although sprawling desert areas with beautiful Saguaro cacti are also found here. The mountain wilderness area has forests of oak, ponderosa pine, and fir trees that are only accessible on foot or horseback. Mountain biking is also permitted on designated trails in the park.

As usual, our first stop at any national park that we visit is the Visitor Center.

Rincon Mountain Visitor Center has interesting exhibits and a 15-minute video presentation that provides information about the plant and animal life in the park.

Maps, trail guides, and information about hiking and permits for the backcountry can be found here. There is also a small gift shop with postcards, books, and other souvenir items of the Saguaro National Park.

View of the Rincon Mountains from the Visitor Center.

There is a cactus garden walk that starts at the front of the Visitor Center. Here are some photos.

From the Visitor Center we drove the 8-mile, Cactus Forest Loop Drive stopping at various points along the way.

Cactus Forest Overlook. 

Mica View Area: We parked the car and took Sadie for a walk for about a mile on this dirt road. Dogs are not permitted on trails or backcountry in national parks, but a ranger had informed us that we could take our dog for a walk along this road.

Tiny red flowers that grew about a 1/2 tall in the desert.

Loved this beautiful saguaro.

Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers carve the holes (seen in photo below) for nesting in the saguaros. After they have abandoned them, they become inhabited by owls, purple martin, and sometimes reptiles.

Closeup of an aging saguaro.

Another type of nest built in a saguaro.

A whole family of saguaros.

These look like conjoined twins!

Loved this ocotillo plant (right). They look like they are dying but bloom in the spring.

Chain fruit cactus.
Fishhook barrel cactus,

John and Sadie enjoying our desert walk.

A closer look.

Not sure what this plant is, but its feathery texture was a lovely contrast to the thorny cacti.

Snake snake, though.

Desert Ecology Trail was our next stop. It is a 1/4 mile paved loop with interpretive signs along the way.
Mesquite tree.
Mistletoe berries.

Desert pack rats collect stuff (seeds, cactus pieces, grass, car keys, bits of trash) and pile it into homes they make in these decaying prickly pear plants. Sometimes their homes are occupied by multiple generations, passing their treasures onto their offspring. Remnants of pack rat habitats have been found here that are 40,000 years old (wow!)

Javelina Rocks. This was perhaps our favorite stop along the scenic drive (although we did not see any javelina that sometimes frequent the area). Be sure to stop at this site and do some exploring in the area.

John, enjoying the quiet and beauty of the desert.

A few views from this special spot.

We were at the park in the late afternoon and stopped to take these photos before the sun set.

Milestone Dates of the Park 
1933 - President Hoover authorizes Saguaro National Monument
1961 - President Kennedy adds Tucson Mountain District to the monument.
1976 - Congress designates 71,400 acres as wilderness
1994 - Congress designates Saguaro National Park.

The beautiful saguaro cactus has thus been preserved through these actions. After years of diminishing numbers of cacti, the landscape is recovering through the efforts of the park service.

The admission fee to the park is $10/vehicle. John's senior pass gets us in for free. With each national park we visit, I become more impressed with the foresight of individuals to preserve these beautiful wonders of nature in our country.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner - 11/27/14

This is our first RV-lifestyle Thanksgiving. For many years, we have celebrated the holiday by preparing a large dinner for family at our house in Pennsylvania.

This year John and I discussed what we wanted to do for dinner and considered these three options:

1. Prepare our own Thanksgiving dinner in our motor coach;
2. Go out to eat; or
3. Join in the Thanksgiving potluck meal in the recreation hall here at Desert Trails RV Park.

John, of course, wanted us to do whatever would make me happy (what a sweetheart) and was willing to do any of the three. In the end we decided on option #3. Some of the considerations that went into the decision were:

- Our kitchen is small to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It could be done...but it seemed like too much work for just the two of us. The obvious downside of not preparing our own dinner is that we would not have the yummy leftovers.

- The restaurants I found that were offering what I thought would be a good Thanksgiving meal were about $60/per. Add drinks and tip and I knew we would spend over $200. I would prefer to spend our fixed income on doing other stuff. It just didn't seem worth it. The obvious positive to this option is no effort other than driving to the restaurant.

- The primary positive aspect (that won out in the end) of the potluck meal was that we would have a Thanksgiving dinner with a wide array of side dishes in addition to turkey (provided by the RV park) as well as the social aspect of the option. Everyone who attended signed up to bring an appetizer, vegetable, or dessert. Also, we all brought their own beverages (wine, of course, for me), dishes/utensils, and, of course, dish. We brought a fruit appetizer that we had a lot of fun preparing this morning.

Here are a couple of photos of the buffet tables, although not all of the dishes had arrived when I took these.

I was very happy that our fruit dish was a big hit and everything was eaten. So I learned that preparing a dish and sharing it with a group of folks I do not yet know is a lot of fun! We really enjoyed all of the delicious food that was prepared for today's meal. We left there stuffed, just as it is supposed to be on Thanksgiving.

The other positive aspect of our choice today is that we got to meet some very nice people and share information about our RV travels. We learned some good tips about Oklahoma (a state we have not yet visited) from a couple at our table, Donna and Jason, that we will follow up on when we visit that state. We also discussed the things to do in Tucson - they have been here a month so have seen much more than we have.

Of course, we spoke with our kids and some of our siblings (well, those we could reach today). It was a wonderful Thanksgiving. And we are so very thankful for our many blessings.

Perhaps what made this Thanksgiving so different from the previous ones is the weather. Here in Tucson, it is about 80 in the afternoon and in the 40s at night. When we spoke to our daughter in Chicago, the temperature was in the teens. NC was about 50 degrees but in the 20s at night. And our home town in PA was in the 30s. So yes, one of the great things about an RV lifestyle, is that you can follow the weather. No more of those snowy, icy, frigid winters. Although I will admit it was a bit strange for it to be so hot!

Next on the agenda is pulling out the box of Christmas items we brought with us and decorating our motor coach for the season. We used to have enough Christmas  stuff to fill a small fact, we kept it all in our storage unit! We will be starting new Christmas traditions this year as well.

We are hoping that each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Old Tucson Studios - 11/25/14

This movie studio and theme park is located west of Tucson near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park (West).

The sets were originally constructed by Columbia Pictures in 1938 to replicate Tucson in the 1860s for the filming of the movie, Arizona, starring William Holden and Jean Author. A staggering 50 buildings were built in 40 days....many of them still standing today.

Other early movies filmed here include:
- The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman
- The Last Round Up (1947) with Gene Autry
- Winchester '73 (1950) with Jimmy Stewart
- The Last Outpost (1950) with Ronald Reagan

Some of the better known movies filmed in the 1950s include: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral; The Lone Ranger; Lost City of Gold; Cimarron; Rio Bravo; McClintok! Movies have been filmed here since with the last one in 2013.

There is small museum that displays some of the posters and props from various productions.

Also, numerous TV productions used the Old Tucson sets in the 1960s-1990s including: Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, as well as various episodes of many others such as Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, Big Valley, and Young Riders. 

Big Valley dresses - green one worn by Barbara Stanwyck

Little House on the Prairie costumes.

Bonanza - Ben Cartwright vest/pants and Hoss's hat and shirt.

Young Guns II poster

Movie filmed in 2013 (not yet distributed).

In total over 300 movies and TV series/movies have been filmed here thus far. Look for some of these backgrounds when you are watching Westerns! The Golden Gate Mountain is a famous opening and closing shot of many of them.

In 1959, an entrepreneur, Robert Shelton, leased the property from Pima County and began restoration work to make the location a theme park while retaining the buildings for movie-making. He added tours, rides, and shows for the entertainment of visitors. We saw a gunfight and stunt show while we were there.

And the fight begins...

See the guy with the "bag of flour" at the top of the stairs? Yep, he drops it on the guy with the red shirt.

In the end the "bad" guys all die, because "crime doesn't pay."

Grand Palace Hotel and Saloon.

Street scene.
Dance hall performance.

Horse thieves!

A little too small for this guy!

El Toro was used in The Last Outpost, more recently, Three Amigos, and several others.

The Reno is the most photographed locomotive in American history. Built in 1872, it served the Comstock lode before its movie career began. It has appeared in 100 movies/TV productions. The famous people and co-stars include who have been on this include: Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt; actors John Wayne, James Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Taylor and others.

Graveyard and church.

John enjoyed hanging with the horses...they really liked him, too!

Views around town.

Reproduction of first school built in Tucson (1864).

Stage coach rides around Old Tucson can be purchased for $3/per adult.

There is also a small train ride (no additional charge) that you can take to see some of the area when you get tired of walking.

Be sure to review the schedule of events for the day you visit. The stunt show by the old church was very entertaining (the set was used in Three Amigos). Those guys did some stunt falls from the top of the structure that were pretty impressive.

Three Amigos!

Carousel ... that did not seem to fit in with the rest of this place. But the kids seemed to enjoyed the ride. It is near the exit.

If you like Western movies or TV shows, you will love this place! General admission is $17.95/adults and $10.95/kids 4-11). Check website (below) for their schedule as it varies by season. We visited on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving...normally they are only open weekends this time of year. It was perfect timing for us as it was not too crowded.