Benson/Tuscon Arizona March 7-12 Saguaro-Chiricahua and other capers!

Our base of operations for the next few days was the Red Barn Campground ($16.66/night) Benson, Arizona. It’s close to Tuscon and several sites that we had on our bucket list. After setting up we went over to the Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David.

The Monastery was founded in 1974 on 132 acres by the Olivetan Benedictine Order. It is a place of spiritual retreat and a bird sanctuary. It contains Our Lady of Guadeloupe Church, lovely grounds, training facilities, cloisters and and meditation gardens. The Monastery was ordered closed by the Abbot General in February 2017 and is now being run by volunteers of the order. It’s a beautiful, meditative place.

Our Lady of Guadeloupe Chapel

On March 8th we left early for Saguaro National Park, 92,000 acres of mountains and Sonoran Desert wilderness. The desert is home to the giant Saguaro Cactus that can live 250 years. These cactus grow as a straight cylinder until they are 75 years old and start getting branches. Early inhabitants of the area were the Hohokam, Sobaipuri, Tohono O’odham and Apache tribes. While I really enjoyed the landscape and those fabulous cacti, my favorite area was the Signal Hill Trail which took us up to the petroglyphs. Dozens of them from 200-1450 AD. I didn’t want to leave.

Next up was the San Xavier Mission, nine miles from Tuscon on the
Tohono O’odham (Desert People) Reservation. It was founded in 1692 with the current Mission being built on the site 1783-1797. It is also known for centuries as The White Dove in the Desert. It is the oldest intact European architecture in Arizona. The statues and murals are original in this Spanish Colonial/Baroque designed mission. Tohono O’odham tribe members set up branch booths on the ground and sell fry bread cooked right on sight. It’s worth taking some time and exploring this area.

The next day we went to Historic Tombstone. There is a gunfight at the OK Corral on the hour and plenty of places to spend your tourists dollars. We had a good time there but it reminded me of the tourists traps in Cherokee, NC from times past. One interesting tidbit: the shootout wasn’t in the OK Corral, it was actually on a vacant lot on Fremont Street. Another place to check out is Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, aka Big Nose Kate, was a prostitute and common law wife of Doc Holliday.

We headed to Bisbee on the afternoon of the 9th. Bisbee is an old mining town, which was saved by the hippies after the mines played out. It is an eclectic and artsy place that I thoroughly enjoyed. While we were there they were having the “Return of the Turkey Vulture Festival.” What a hoot, complete with parade and street closings for music and dance. We planned to explore for a couple of hours and stayed all afternoon into early evening.

On March 10th we left early for Chiricahua National Monument, which is the result of volcanic activity 27 million years ago. It covers 17 square miles and has 17 miles of trails. This is a beautiful place full of balancing rocks, hoodoos, and Faraway ranch. Go and take a trail or two and see this beautiful geology. Amazing place.

The last place we visited was the University of Arizona Museum of Archaeology. It’s a very nice museum of prehistoric to current Native American artifacts and history.

This was a fun, history, learning and awe of nature jammed packed few days. Loved, loved, loved this area. Off to the next caper. Stay tuned!

Vado, New Mexico – February 26-March 4

We chose Western Skys RV Park (Passport America $20/night) because it was the halfway point between El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico and convenient to all the places that we had marked to see. We were still in the Chihuahua Desert area. Beautiful days with warm temperatures, no humidity and no rain. Nice!

El Paso had a great museum of art and we enjoyed much of the city. The only issue we had in El Paso was that the western side of the city had many road closures due to road construction and that hampered our travels on that side of town. We visited the Museum, Mission Trail, San Elizario Historic District, and the Tigua Indian Reservation Pueblo.

Las Cruces, NM was less crowded and had a unique arts area right on Main St. We visited the Museums of Art, Natural Sciences and the Branigan. All nearby with easy access. We also enjoyed White Sands National Monument, Old Mesilla Village, and the Basilica of San Albino. There was so much history to absorb from this area. It can fill your brain and your senses.

Let’s start with White Sands National Monument! Admission to the park is $20/vehicle; $10/person or you can use a National Park Pass. I highly recommend getting the National Park Pass. Seniors can buy a lifetime pass for $80. It’s worth getting this pass, 4 parks and it pays for itself.

White Sands National Monument is in the Chihuahua Desert, Tularosa Basin and is 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes. It is stunning and we are allowed to climb the dunes and even sled down them. Sunsets over the dunes are nothing short of spectacular.

The El Paso Museum of Art has free admission and has some very interesting exhibitions. It is in the historic area of town with safe walking and interesting sights. I especially liked the Julie Speed exhibit.

Next up, San Elizario Historic District, which has roots as far back as 1598, was a Spanish Fort, Presidio San Elizario in 1789, and where the Salt War was fought between the town and Texas Rangers in 1877. The Rangers surrendered. Great little place to visit and the people were welcoming and fun. Note: The Old County Jail is the only jail that Billy the Kid broke in to. He sprung his old friend Melquiades Segura!

We visited the Socorro Mission and actually participated in the “Mass for the Infirm.” It was a Spanish Mass and the Priest invited us to lunch after. Experiences. Have them. Grow.

El Paso Museum of Archaeology.

Tigua Indian Reservation Pueblo. We met Arthur, a member of the council, who was very informative and spoke to us at length about his people and their belief system. The center has many artifacts and shops. Very educational and I highly recommend stopping by.

Old Mesilla Village (Little Tableland) on the Rio Grande was started in 1848. It is home to the Basilica of San Albino and many artisan shops that have set up in the historic buildings. Most residents are direct descendants of the early settlers. Billy the Kid went on trial here and was sentenced to death. Mesilla is a colorful place and worth a look.

Las Crusces Museum of Art, Museum of Natural Sciences and Branigan Museum. All are adjacent to each other in historic downtown. Nice visit. Lovely folks.

The following is a remote trail that we took after visiting the Museum of Natural Sciences. This area is rich in fossils. Gerry McDonald is responsible for major finds in the 1980s and is still finding fossils in this area. He is an Amateur Paleontologist who discovered the “worlds richest repository” of pre-dinosaur fossils and fossil tracks, dating back 280 million years. We enjoyed the trek out and a 4 wheel drive is a must. It was a little scary out there and we were not fortunate enough to find any fossils. We did find beauty and quiet, however.

We had a great few days here. Many capers and looking forward to our next adventure in Silver City, NM. More later!

San Antonio – The Mission Trail

Part 3

As you get older, sometimes you lose track of time. Taking into consideration that we’ve been “on the Road” for about three weeks and you’ll understand that Part 2 did not end the San Antonio part of the “Great Tour!” Our actual last day was cold and rainy AND our travels down the Mission Trail.

There are four missions on this trail, The Alamo, which we visited earlier was the first mission for a total of five. It will take the better part of a day to see them. Some have historians on site to tell you little know facts and local lore and all of them have free admission.

These missions were started by Franciscan Friars in the 1700s. They were financed by Spain and the missions served both the Crown and the church. Missions were tasked with converting the Coahuiltecan Indians spiritually and expanding the Spanish empire further north in New Spain.

Missions were also walled forts to protect the Friars, settlers and Native Americans. The Native Americans went to the missions to escape disease and raids by Apache and Comanche Indians. The Natives could not escape the European diseases, however, and most died either from disease or in the raids. Most of the missions had failed by the late 1700s.

The Espada (sword) Mission founded 1731, finished 1756 and abandoned before the Texas Revolution in 1835.

Mission San Juan Capistrano started 1731 and unfinished after 20 years due to Apache raids. Spain sold the land to ranchers in 1794. The missionaries had left but 12 Coahuiltecan remained.

Mission San Jose built 1720, booming by 1768 and left by Spain in 1821. Native Americans totaled 281 and did much of the work building the mission. Life was segregated from the soldiers and others there.

Mission Concepcion was started in 1731 and completed in 24 . From 1731-1762 Native Americans totaling 792 were baptized and 588 of them were buried due to contracting European diseases such as smallpox and measles. Some of the original paints have been uncovered and restored here. Absolutely beautiful.

History, architecture and artistry of the missions, designed by the Friars and built by the Native Americans. I will leave it up to each of you to decide if the Missions helped or damaged the indigenous people who were living in the area. I highly recommend visiting and learning more. More info:

Stay tuned for the Del Rio, Texas leg of this trip.