2/17/18 – 3/15/18
After an enjoyable stay in Southern California, it was time to hit Arizona. Our first stop over the border was Quartzsite.
Quartzsite is known to be the Boondocking Capital of the World with many free camping spaces on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) public land. The town’s population is ~3,000 but it increases to almost a million during January and February as rockhounds, jewelers and vendors, mostly in thousands of RVs, attend the eight major gem and mineral shows. We missed the major shows but there were still vendors hanging out for us stragglers. As novice rockhounds, we were overwhelmed by the amount and variety of gems and minerals. You could find everything from raw materials to polished gemstones. There were also vendors selling RV accessories, food, and other local products.
Many vendors sold directly out of their RV and we met a family camping in an old Volkswagen bus selling turquoise. A couple with two young boys, the father, and a dog lived in the bus and a small tent area for the winter months. And I thought we were in tight quarters!
We camped in the area two-nights for free about 10 minutes down the road on BLM property. Not many others around so we could just pick a level area anywhere just being cautious to avoid the soft sandy spots.
Sometimes Things Just Work Out
We packed up and hit the road again heading east on Highway 10 towards Tucson. The wind was howling and the blowing sand limited visibility and many vehicles were pulling over including one poor camper who had a solar panel dangling by a wire off the back of his RV. We cautiously, probably stupidly, drove on. It was a slow, nerve-fraying trip.
We were relieved to finally arrive at Tucson Meadows/Winter Haven RV Park. The attendant met us to show us to our site and when she saw Alyssa she told us we couldn’t stay at the park because they don’t allow anyone under 30 years old. We knew it was a 55 and older park, but usually that means adults with at least one over 55. I was not happy but what can you do?
The attendant did try to help us find another park but there was nothing local and it was after 5:00 so too late to call other parks. When we are stuck without a place to say our usual fall-back is Walmart but the local Walmart did not allow overnight parking. We knew there was a SKP (Escapee) park in Benson about an hour away that would probably have dry camping available so that’s where we headed.
We were a little concerned that we would not be able to check-in as it was after 6 pm by the time we arrived, but someone drove up almost as soon as we arrived and directed us to a site. We had to dry camp (no hookups) for three days because they were full. The night temperatures were below 30 and we couldn’t run the heat because the fans drain the batteries and campgrounds don’t let you run your generator at night. Still, it was nice to have a place to stay and after three nights we were able to move to a full hookup site.
As it worked out, I’m glad the other park kicked us out – SKP Saguaro in Benson is now one of our favorite RV Parks. The sites are large, the clubhouse is comfortable, the staff is friendly and efficient, and everyone in the park made us feel welcome.
We loved it so much, we stayed almost a month, hanging out with fun people, enjoying many activities, and exploring the area’s sights. They even had hiking trails behind the park with great views of the area.
More About SKP Saguaro Park and the People We Met
The park is a CO-OP most of the residents have lifetime leases on their campsites and the leaseholders run the park. Right away someone suggested we go on a tour of the place. The tour guide, Art, did a great job and we met fellow first-time visitors Dick and Sandy.
Dick and Sandy were so enamored with the place they were already on the “Hot-List”. The Hot-List is the list of people waiting to buy a lease. The leases are in demand and the hot-list has over 250 hopefuls. During our almost 4 weeks there we were asked if we were on the hot-list approximately eight thousand times. We are not. We really love the place but we are a long way from settling down, even seasonally. (Yes we know “your deposit is applied to the price of the lease,”, and “You get almost your entire deposit back if you decide to get off the hot list”, and “it can take 5 years to get a lease”). Truthfully, we were flattered to feel so wanted.
We ended up spending a lot of time with Dick and Sandy. They like us are travelers, except while we consider a trip to Arizona adventurous they picked up stakes and moved to Nairobi and then India. Like us they like to help – we give a dollar or two to panhandlers – they go to third world countries and set up chiropractic clinics. Like us they are risk takers – we hiked the Yosemite fall trail, they hiked to Temples on mountaintops in India. We had so much in common that of course, we enjoyed each others company.
This park is full of adventurous people:
- Bob and Gini sailed the great loop:
- Dan started parasailing 18 years ago at 60 – you do the math.
- Tom worked for the CIA, has lived all over the world, and speaks seven languages
Almost everyone we spoke to made me think I needed to expand my bucket list and get busy. And everyone was just a lot of fun.
A nice feature of the park is that many of the leaseholders have Casitas (tiny houses) on their plots. We were lucky enough to be there when they were having their annual “Casita Tour” so we were able to visit many of them and meet the leaseholders.
Their monthly event calendar was full of activities and club meetings. We had so much fun going to karaoke, pancake breakfast, music entertainment, Monday night dinner, landscaping club, polymer clay class, movie night, happy hour, ice cream social, sock hop, and photo club. Yes, we all got up to karaoke and Alyssa sculpted dragons on local rocks to sell.
Things We Did With Dick and Sandy
We quickly figured out that food was a common interest for us and Dick and Sandy so we decided to check out a local restaurant, Mi Casa. Considered Benson’s “hidden gem,” the tiny place (seats 24) features southern Baja-style Mexican cuisine which was delicious and the “Three Flavors of Enchilada’s” were beautifully presented.
Some more yummy places in Benson are the drive-thru ice cream stop (many visits) and Horseshoe Cafe.
Another day with Dick and Sandy was visiting the Amerind Museum (www.amerind.org) in Dragoon which is a research, library, and art gallery featuring Native American findings and history. The exhibition includes textiles, clay pottery, stone works, and incredible baskets from different tribes and time periods. Sorry, no interior photos were allowed so here’s a group shot instead … cheese!!!
On 3/8, we coordinated an appointment to visit the Forever Home Donkey Rescue (www.foreverhomedonkey.com). The private sanctuary was started by John and Tish in 1997. We were greeted by the owners, volunteers/workers and a few of the donkeys. As we learned about the place, more and more donkeys gathered around us. They were extremely friendly and loved to get scratched around their ears. Afterwards, we had lunch together at the 86 Cafe.
More Attractions Near Benson
A half-hour north of Benson is Tombstone, the most authentic western town in the United States, known for the famous “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday against the “cowboys.” We explored the downtown shops, watched the local entertainers, and enjoyed the stagecoaches with horses riding by. Alyssa was appropriately dressed with her cowboy boots and jeans.
Chiricahua National Monument
About an hour East of Benson is the Chiricahua National Monument. We spent the day admiring and walking amongst the pinnacle rock formations. Hiking along the Echo Canyon Loop which was a moderate 3.3 mile trail. The route winds through spectacular rock formations including the Grottoes and Wallstreet to the densely wooded Echo Park. We had lunch along the trail, stopping to sit on a fallen tree trunk, enjoying the peaceful and beautiful setting around us. Bob loves climbing on rocks and found one to conquer. Somewhat easy to ascend, however, at the top he found himself challenged to get back down. After several different attempts, he descended and kept his feet on the ground for the rest of the trip. We all really enjoyed the hike and while driving home we stopped at the pullouts to see more rock formations, like China Boy, Sea Captain, and Organ Pipes. There’s so much more to explore but we only spent a day and will save more for another time.
An hour South of Benson is Bisbee (3/12), an old mining town known as the “Queen of the Copper Camps.” Also famous for it’s high quality strain of turquoise called “Bisbee Blue” which was a by-product of the copper mining. The historic center of town features quaint shops, restaurants, and the Copper Queen Hotel (1902). The Queen Mine Tours gives travelers a taste of the underground life. The most impressive thing of Bisbee are the precarious miner houses that decorate the hillside. Many have been renovated and feature creative gates. To access the houses, there are many, many, many steps to climb. Running along the steps are PVC piping to bring gas to the homes (definitely not to code in Massachusetts). We met an owner who had a refrigerator delivered and the crew needed to climb over 50 stairs to install it. He said Sears no longer delivers to Bisbee!
There’s many things to do and see in and around Tucson. We picked a few things and enjoyed them all.
The Mini Time Machine (Miniature Museum)
The exhibit On Point: Sculptures on the Tips of Lead Pencils was amazing! A magnifying glass was provided to see the tiny, tiny carvings of the the Eiffel Tower, flowers, and a bird cage with a bird inside on No. 2 pencil tops. Beyond AMAZING!!!!
Other gallery rooms featured mini houses, a teapot with miniatures inside, and a fantastic fairy room with miniature fairy folks throughout.
Saguaro National Park
There are two sections of Saguaro National Park … west side of Tucson and east side. The giant saguaro cactus is the universal symbol of the American west. We checked out the Red Hill’s Visitor Center first to get trail maps and recommended hikes. Following the Bajada Scenic Loop, we used the pullouts to walk the trails and stood face-to-spine with the giant saguaro’s. Each has it’s own characteristic form, and although intimidating, they feel like old-souls that you want to get to know or in Bob’s case, give a hug! A stop at Signal Hill featured petroglyphs along the trail.
On our second visit, we traveled along the 8-mile Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive on the East side. While hiking along the Desert Ecology Trail we discovered a tiny lizard like critter. Only about 2″ long, we took a closer look and were excited that it was a horny toad! Soaking up the sun it slowly looked around and posed for a few photos before runny off. There were also other lizards along the trail to check out. Later in the day, we joined a guided sunset hike to the top of an overlook. Wanting the perfect photo of a saguaro with the sunset background, I wandered off trail. Big mistake!!! Slipping between a shrub and a jumping cholla, I backed off and felt the pain of the cactus needles digging through my pants into my skin. Ouch!!! Yelling to Bob to rescue me, he ran up, stumbled into the jumping cholla also, and got stuck too. Luckily, the ranger leading the tour had a comb and pliers that we used to pluck out the spines. A sunset that we will never forget for sure!
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (3/11)
A combination museum, zoo and garden, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has it all! Started with reptiles, then walked through the cave to see the mineral gallery, and followed the desert loop trail to find coyotes and javelinas.
The cactus garden area was beautiful with lots of blooming penstemon which attracted many hummingbirds. They also had an enclosed hummingbird aviary that was very cool. There were also some fun animal pieces to try on, so we did!
Last day in Benson
On 3/15, we invited some of the friends we met at SKP Saguaro for a cookout to say goodbye. Burgers, bean dip, chips, coleslaw, and fruit salad were served. It was wonderful to share stories and contact info, hear jokes (thanks Les), and plan for future get-togethers. We will definitely be back and look forward to hanging out again.
Until next time!!!