Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The border patrol and winter winds

It's a long and boring drive on the interstate 10 into Las Cruces. At times it seemed the only ones on the road besides us were the border patrol. There are lots of them in their signature green and white trucks, some with trailers for their ATVs, parked on the side of the road. We saw one stopped on the shoulder with two officers holding guns on a couple of young Mexican men lying on the ground in their red and turquoise hoodies. I don't know if they were carrying drugs in their backpacks or just trying to get into the land of opportunity.

On all the roads heading north from the Mexican border are border patrol checkpoints where all vehicle traffic must stop to be questioned. We've had to show our passports and say where we were coming from but so far we haven't had the sniffing dogs inside Mohita. One officer seemed a little suspicious though. When we told him we were exploring the area he said, "And you are travelling around in THIS?" We tried not to be insulted.

Yesterday we arrived in Las Cruces, a city of about 100,000 not far from the west texas town of El Paso. We drove in from Demming in a windstorm. We'd spent the previous night being buffeted by winds gusting to 50 mph. They come howling across the wide open spaces this time of year whenever a front comes through. even though the sun is shining and the sky is clear blue, the wind makes it mighty cold in the morning. We liked Las Cruces better than we expected. There's a cute little 'old town' called Mesilla with adobe buildings, good restaurants and shops, there's a large and pleasant state university, and a downtown area with the main street closed to traffic and a farmers market happening. We visited the city art museum and saw a very interesting exhibit of New Mexican art. The museum also offers classes in ceramics, painting, and weaving. All the towns and cities in this area seem to have thriving arts communities.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Highlights of our day in Bisbee

We planned to spend a day or so in Bisbee, an old copper mining town that climbs up a hill, replete with Victoria houses, fancy hotels and miners' shacks.  But Mohita threw a bit of a wrench into our plans.  We arrived at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Queen Mine RV Park, which hangs out over the open pit mine with a view of the town across the highway.  After pulling into the parking lot to let the dogs out for a pee we found we were unable to start the engine.

Fortunately we had both a cell phone and the AAA coverage so we called for help and waited a couple of hours for the truck to arrive (from about 50 miles away as there is not AAA garage in Bisbee).  It turns out the alternator was shot and had to be replaced but we had to wait until Monday when garages in Bisbee would be open, so he jump started us and we drove up the hill to the RV park for the night.

We did manage to walk into town and take a few photographs.  It's an interesting place, but it seems to be more derelict than I recall from a visit here about 15 years ago.  Also some of the sights brought me back to a few unhappy years I spent living in a mining town.

We had a drink at the Copper Queen Hotel and admired the church on a hill and a dog in the yard before heading back to Mohita for our supper.

This morning we found a mechanic who came and jump started us and led us to the shop where they managed to find in stock the correct part.  They installed it while we waited and by noon we were good to go.  But by then we were kind of finished with Bisbee and we headed east across the windy flat desert into New Mexico.

The highlight of my day though, was the wait in the mechanic's yard.  One of the owners is nuts about old cars and he had a collection of rusted hulks lined up.  I spent a happy couple of hours taking about 150 photographs.  Here are a few to give you an idea.

You never know where you'll find your joy in a day!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Evening in Patagonia

These photos are from the hills behind Patagonia, a little town on another highway close to Nogales.  This area is so picturesque and the air is exquisitely clear.  We camped here tonight and took the dogs out in a big field as dusk fell. 

This morning the sun lines the other side of the hills and we'll wander into town for coffee and then head down the road to Bisbee.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Still in Tubac

We drove into Tubac on Wednesday afternoon with a plan to have coffee and walk around a bit and then head on down the road.  Today it's Friday and we're still here in this peaceful place of art and desert magic.  Tubac is about halfway between Tucson and the Mexican border town of Nogales.

Tubac has layers of history going back into the mists of the past.  The Tohono O'odham people lived here peacefully for 1200 years before the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century.  The Tumacacori Mission was built a couple miles south of Tubac and its ruins are now a lovely national heritage site. 

In Tubac itself the site of the Presidio (Spanish fortified camp) is worth exploring to learn about the push and pull between the Native peoples and the Spanish and American cultures. 

Today Tubac is a very artsy place.  An art school was started here in 1959 and it is home to many artists and craftspeople.  Its annual Arts Festival takes place in February (unfortunately a week before we arrived).  

It's a small town, easy to walk around and surrounded by grassy meadows and rolling hills.  In the distance are the Santa Rita mountains.  The weather is lovely here in the high desert.  It's cold at night but sunny every day.  Yesterday the temperature rose to 79 in the afternoon. 

Some very tasteful townhome developments have been recently built and we toured around yesterday on our bikes. It's a pleasant place to hang out for a few days.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Various cacti

The Tucson Botanical Gardens is over five acres of garden and residence that was planted in the early 1920s.  It’s much more than cacti as it features trees, shrubs, flowers, kitchen gardens, herbs, tropical plants and citrus.   
We spent a couple hours in the late afternoon wandering around.  And I pointed my camera mostly at the cacti and the succulents in the slanting light. I’m fascinated with these plants and want to learn the names of all of them.   Here are some that appealed to me.

This one on the left may be called a fish hook cactus.  

Then, four different agave varieties.  This is the giant silvery one with leaves that remind me of turtle shells.

The spiky ends on these come in a couple of different colours, and beneath them isone I'd never seen before called the Queen Victoria Agave.

Then there are the prickly pears and some that look like aloe and others that I don't know the names of.  What an incredible variety of colours, shapes, sizes and adaptations to the desert environment.

This last photograph is the tip of the little Christmas Cactus that we buy in supermarkets in the winter.  The sun was shining through the new growth making it look like a glowing candle.

UPDATE:  We're in Tubac today and plan to stay for another day before heading up towards Patagonia.  Tubac is an arty little town with lots to see and do, including a visit to the historic ruins of the Tumacacori mission.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sunday at the Oasis

We drove the back way into Tucson on highway 85 through Ajo, a lovely but isolated spot. It's a former copper mining town and has a charming historic plaza at its centre.   We stopped there on Sunday morning and admired the Spanish style art deco buildings around the grassy plaza.  It was a perfect place for breakfast and some doggie play time.

Here's Mohita posing in front of the Oasis Theatre.  The buildings are really special, enclosing three sides of the plaza.  Most of the store fronts are empty though, as if they're waiting for art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and wine bars.  I can just image how charming it could be if it were to be fixed up. I think the mine still operates so there is some employment but the plaza was deserted on a Sunday morning except for a young woman with her toddler who came to play with Maggie.

There's such a peaceful feeling in this sleepy town.  It's about three hours from Tucson over a narrow road.  But even though it's pretty isolated it has its charm and quite a few people come to spend the winter here. 


This is our second full day in Tucson.  We met up with my blog buddy Parsnip for lunch yesterday and then went to the Tucson Botanical Garden in the afternoon.  I'll post some photos of that later.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sidewalk fairs, saguaros and Medjool date shakes

Today in Yuma they closed a street off for their Mardi Gras, complete with pie throwing contests and pony rides.  The little girls were dressed in their finest.  Look a the braids on this little darling.

This afternoon, we drove to Ajo, a little town in the desert west of Tucson.  We saw our first saguaros in the afternoon light.  Aren't they the most amazing things?

On our way we stopped at Dateland and  we each got date shakes--a first for both of us.  We had them for lunch and by dinnertime we still weren’t hungry.  These are not to be missed, they’re creamy delicious dateness.  But I think one every few years will be enough!

I was interested to learn that the Medjool date was originally grown in Morocco exclusively for royalty.  In 1927 when disease was destroying their trees, Morocco sent 11 offshoots to the USA.  All Medjool dates grown in the world today are descended from those 11 offshoots.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Visiting a lake and a border town

We spent a night at a lovely remote spot north of Yuma on the Colorado River.  It’s a state recreational area beyond the US Army’s proving ground where they test their armaments(!) and there are many RVs there.  The lake was lovely and it’s home to a herd of feral donkeys that have flourished there since the miners left.  We didn’t actually see them but through the night we could hear them braying. The reeds and the native fan palms are really lovely.

I took quite a few photos early one morning for my photography course; they're quite different from these ones.  You can see some more of them here
But the weather was cold and windy and we don’t have a functioning furnace so we headed back to Yuma yesterday.   This morning we took a quick walking trip across the border to Algodones in Mexico.  I was able to get some beautiful prescription sunglasses made in two hours at a cost of $160.  What a deal.
Tomorrow we’re off to see some galleries in Yuma and then we’ll head east again to Ajo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A visit to Salvation Mountain

Way down towards the bottom end of the wrong side of the Salton Sea is a little town called Niland.  And three miles behind the town, past the recycling depot and the electric station, the road leads to a very unique folk art site.   Salvation Mountain is the life’s work of a guy who ended up there when his truck broke down some forty years ago.  He dedicated all his efforts to creating a colourful message about God’s love and the scriptures for all to see.

Salvation Mountain cascades down the rock face topped with a cross.  On the right is an abode of sorts built from straw bales and mud and tree branches. The inside of the living area is even more incredible than the outside.

But the art doesn’t end there.  There are sanctuaries everywhere; little rooms within the mountain, altars and Biblical messages.  

The parking lot is full of abandoned vehicles completely covered with words and images.  I think this one is the truck that first brought Norman here.

We heard about this place from our road buddies Ches and Allie and it was well worth the drive. 

Here's Mohita beside Norman's old truck.  She kinds of fits right in, don't you think?