Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 28 2011
White Sands National Monument  
Visitor center
Today we visited the White Sands National Monument, which is about 20 miles from the City of Alamogordo,NM. We had seen great big sand dunes before, in Yuma and in Blanca,CO, but the dunes here in New Mexico are of a special order. The area is about 100 x 40 miles big. Where is all that white Sand coming from and what is it really?
First, the sand comes by means of wind from the San Andreas Mountains. It can fly as long as there is a certain wind speed around 27mph. This white stuff, which looks like snow is of  heavy weight. It is also cool to the touch. And why is that? Well, this sand is not a silicate sand as elsewhere, but gypsum. Gypsum contracts humidity and is able to build pretty hard surfaces. The ability of holding onto water makes it possible for plants to grow in the sand. 

Up to 60ft high...

Sand Dunes can swallow everything...

Yet the plants can survive
High Five for Molly
Whenever the wind picks up, (and today it did!) the dunes are starting to move. When they move they do so without showing consideration to plants or ANYTHING in their way. They just swallow everything. So what about the plants? Well, looks like the plants out here have smartened up. As soon as the level of sand round their stem is increasing, they start to gear up their growth. And yes, the Yucca, f.ex. is able to grow through an entire 60ft. high sand dune. 

But the dunes keep moving, right?  So one day the sand dune is gone and the plant is standing.....on a pedestal of sand. That is often the time of death, as these pedestals will fall over one day and the plant will die.  

In the middle of all this sand we also saw the top crowns of cottonwood trees. Buried 2/3 of their length, but they are still alive and will just continue to do so even after the sand dunes are gone.
We went to the dunes twice today. First we were heading out there early i the morning, then later to see the sunset at 7.20pm. Both trips yielded plenty of impressions and photos. The visitor center is an attraction too in its beautiful Spanish adobe style.

The San Andreas Mountains in the distance


Monday, March 28, 2011

March 25 2011

City of Rocks State Park

About 52 miles from our camp lies the City of Rocks State Park.  We headed down Hwy 35 towards Mimbres, followed Hwy 152 for less than a mile and turned south onto Hwy 161. At this point we had already left behind mountainous terrain and the tall pine forest. The landscape flatens gradually and finally we were driving through the Chihuahuan  Desert with its  far stretched graslands.  After about 50 miles the park road turns off  to the right ending at the Visitor Center. We paid a 5 dollar day-use fee at the park entrance.  The view from the top of the hill towards the State Park is truly one, I will never forget.  The City of Rocks are right smack in the middle of the surrounding flat graslands.  The entire park offers camping along the circle road.  Even  an RV-Park with electric hook-ups is available. Impressive as the entire park is also the Visitor Center which is shielded by an erected huge rock wall against the blasting winds from the South. Inside the Visitor Center we saw a video about the park, before we actually hiked in between the rocks.

The strange form of these rocks originates from a huge underground volcanic explosion of the “Kneeling Nun”, as the hill was named. The accumulated ashes were very hot and forged into a solid rock, called “Tuff”.  When cooling of a slight shrinking of the rocks started small vertical cracks. These cracks eroded over time farther and farther down. Water, ice and wind contributed year after year.  In the end (there is really no end to it) the rocks were standing each by itself with passages in between. The most incredible rock formations had evolved.  Some high perched rocks appear to be barely hanging on , others are leaning precariously, threatening to fall over any time. There are crevices we climbed through, there are round holes on top of some big rocks giving the impression of a bath tub. Trees have grown in between spending nice shade on hot summer days.

The entire park is a fairy tale of rocks where our fantasy can run wild. Everyone can walk between the rocks or climb them. Pets are allowed but have to be leashed.

We returned via Silver City where we also replenished our food supplies.   From Silver City we followed the infamous Hwy 15.   After getting out of the populated areas of the outskirts of Silver City the road looes its median and narrows further. It is a constant up and down and left and right winding road, which certainly represents a challenge to a driver not being acquainted with mountain driving.  Narrow switchbacks are demanding the drivers attention for meeting traffic. As for big rigs over 22-23 feet we can only warn against such attempt. Trees and bushes hanging low over the road are also dangerous for high profile vehicles, making it necessary to drive centric. Only really experienced drivers should go up (or down) this road.  Also before coming to the intersection with Hwy 35 the 15 has to get down and off the mountain. A long downgrade requires to gear down.

Avoiding this road is easy.  You turn off onto Hwy 152 east of Silver City then make another turn north at San Lorenzo onto Hwy 35 towards Mimbres.  Hwy 35 joins Hwy 15 past Lake Roberts. From that intersection  Hwy 15 is much less of a challenge even so it is still a mountain road.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


March 24 2011

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila River in the Gila Wilderness
On the morning after our arrival we were off to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We followed Hwy 35 to where it joins with Hwy 15 which runs up from Silver City. All roads leading through these mounatins are narrow and curvy, so a low.speed is required.

From the intersection with the 15 it takes approx. 45 minutes to reach the Visitor Center.  A cold wind was blasting across the open terrain, when we got out of the car. The Visitor Center holds a little gift shop and a small museum, where we also saw a video about the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Entrance to the Park
Equipped with a map we ventured off to the trail head which is about 2 miles away on a side road. Here we paid our fees and went on the 1mile round hike to the Cliffs. The narrow path leads through a forested gulch before it starts climbing up to the dwellings. At the first cave we met a volunteer who told us about the history of the dwellings.  

Inside one of the caves

A lizard is posing for me...

The first people living here were the Mogollon. They were hunters and gatherers, but also did some farming. Traditionally the Mogollon would build pit houses or surface pueblos. When finding fertile soil and abundant game in the Gila River valley, the Tularosa Mogollons broke with their tradition and built inside the caves of the cliff. They also used rock, mortar and timbers for ceilings and ladders. The remaining timber has been dated to be the original timber from these first Mogollons. It was cut between 1276 and 1287. As with most cliff dwellings in the South West the mystery remains about why the owners of the dwellings moved on. In this case the Mogollons had left the area by 1300. No signs of hostilities have ever been found. As with other cliff dwellings drought might have been one of the possible reasons.

It appears that no one lived in the area for the next 100 years. However, around 1500, Apaches had moved to the  upper Gila River, although some of their oral traditions claim that it always has been the homeland.

Their legendary leader Geronimo was born near the Gila River in the 1820s as Mexico challenged Apache control over the area. There is no mention whether the Apache actually moved into the caves.

For us it was a true field day, and we can recommend the visit to everyone, though I would not undertake the 1 mile roundtrip hike in the middle of the summer.

When returning to camp we felt thorougly  tired and had to reward ourselves with coffee and a doughnut. (ouch..)

The trail as it descends 

 MARCH 23-2011

Arizona Highway 80
This morning ran up with a deep blue sky and lots of sunshine. We were busy readying our rig for departure. Last evenings meal in the SANTIAGO Restaurant at Bisbee together with Chuck, LeaRay (from Minnesota) and Fred and Olivia (from Texas) was a wonderful way to end the stay on the SILVERADO Ranch. Now we had to say Good Bye to our new friends and I have the strong feeling we’re gonna see them again some day. But we also had to say Good Bye to Belle. We sat down with her in her kitchen and, as always, she was talking about her plans, but also thanking us for the work we’d done for her on the ranch.

Marker for Geronimos last stand
Desert along hwy 80 in Arizona
We hit the road and were heading down the AZ Hwy 80 towards Douglas. From Douglas the road follows the border line before it veers off to the North-East. This morning we had beautiful clear colours and we marveled about the wide plains and rugged mountains along the way.
At about noon we reached the I-10 west of Lordsburg. Had some lunch before we went down the ramp and joined the big traffic heading east.

State Line New Mexico

Highway towards Silver City

At Lordsburg we took off towards Silver City. Our goal was the Gila Cliff Dwellings. At Silver City we stopped to find about about campgrounds along the way to the dwellings. It was then that Bea found the warning, some good campers had posted, about going up route 15 from Silver City. A narrow road and switchbacks would make that road very difficult for maneuvering large vehicles. In fact the warning was intended for all vehicle beyond 20 length!! Boy, were we lucky to read that before it was too late. The recommended route was to follow Hwy 35 which forks off the 152 east of Silver City.  And that was what we did. Now, the landscape became really hilly and the various shades of green were just amazing. Spring was just around the corner and some trees had started to bring out their light green leaves. We stopped at the huge Santa Rita Mine which supposedly is the oldest working mine in North America. It is probably also the biggest as it stretches over 1 mile across.
Highway 152  towards Gila Cliff Dwellings

As we got past the last little villages entering the Gila National Forest, the road became more narrow. It was very, very curvy and the max speed was posted between 20-30 mph. Huge pine trees on both sides marked the end of a desert landscape. I  was looking forward to a complete change. When you have seen nothing but desert for more then 5 months you’d be delighted to see some green trees. In between the trees high cliffs of a pink colour showed. Beautiful ranches were tucked in very scenic spots.  The road from Silver City climbs up into very high elevation. One sign we saw posted more than 6300 feet, and we were still climbing.

Our Campground in the Gila National Forest

Shortly before approaching the intersection between the 35 and the 15 we got to Lake Roberts. The first campground we saw was the “Upper End” . We stopped on the road and I walked in to check out availablility. I found a very nice and level site long enough for the Motorhome with the trailer. We backed in and booked up for a 4 days stay. This is a weather protected spot, shielded by hills on either side adorned with tall pine trees.

Lake Roberts

Our spot for the next few days
After coffee and a doughnut (!!) we wandered off into the sunset to explore the area. The path led us down and along the lakeshore. Plenty of  little ducks on the water and a quiete little boat with two anglers drifting around the lake. Stunningly beautiful spot!!  Of course being in such a remote spot we had no internet or phone connection, but as the nice host lady said: You are on vacation, just enjoy it here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 22 2011

We worked a bit in the morning, cleaning up around the old farmhouse. Weather was a bit on the cool side, but great for work. In the afternoon we made for Bisbee. We wanted to renew our acquaintance with this special mining town. First we went to see the Mining Museum. It is really worth a visit, but you can't take pictures there.

After walking through the museum we needed a rest. So we turned into the Queen Hotel's bar and sat outside on the porch. 
A walk-about in town was the next thing we were up to. We climbed stairs walked steep streets - this town is build right onto the hillside. From elevated locations one has a great view over the old buildings. Bisbee has the charm of  an Italian Mountain Village. But it seems that the recession has had an impact on Bisbee as well. Quite a few storefronts were empty and up for rent.

When Bisbee mines closed down in the 70's a bunch of Hippys arrived in town. And it was these people who revived Bisbee and gave it a new life. When walking the town you will see now old Hippies in quite a few places. There sense of architecture and decoration has put a stamp on the town.

    The influx of Hippy culture....

    The charm of a Mediterranean town...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our journey 2010/2011       
For reading about our previous journeys go to: american-traveler.com/SNOWBIRD-WEB/index.html

Since November 01. we have been in our favorite spot at the Hot Springs in Holtville, CA. However, when the days get longer, and the heat increases (meaning up to 89-90 F.) we get itchy to hit the road and see something else in this great country. So on march 11 we left the Hot Springs and went on to Mittry Lake, just north of Yuma. Mittry Lake is a beautiful area, but camping there has a few drawbacks. 

The area is heavily frequented by anglers. So when the weekend rolls around they are coming in numbers. The road along the lake is a dirt road and the boaters do not care a bit to slow down, when they pass a campsite. So needless to say the dust from the road is not what we want. Also, once on the lake some fishermen feel the urgency to show off with their +250hk out-boarders. They scare away every bird who had the idea of nesting along the shores of the lake. 
So, after 2 nights we buggered off towards the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument south of WHY.
Just south of this tiny village the BLM has a 14 day free-camping-area. When arriving there, only 8 rigs were parked there.  The area is very quiet and the desert beautiful. I guess in January it can get very cold there, at least that was what we heard from the host.

A mighty Saguaro Cactus with beginning arms

Entrance to the Park

An Organ Pipe Cactus

The Organ Pipe Cactus Monument is worth a visit. After a stop-in at the visitor center we took the 21-mile Ajo-Mountain round trip. The road is part dirt road, part paved. 

On march 16 we moved over to Benson and stayed a night at the Red Barn RV-Park. 

Our next stop is Belle Starr's Ranch at Bisbee. 
Vi learned about Belle from other bloggers that she invites boondocking campers on to her property. If you lend a hand to help her maintain the ranch or feed the many animals you can stay free on her property.

Sunset from the Silverado Ranch

The last sun rays

So if you want to visit her place, you drive down Arizona HWY 80 towards Douglas. A few miles south of Bisbee you will find Belle's SILVERADO ranch on the south-side of the Highway.

We got immediately involved in restoring part of the old original farm house. It had a sagging porch and needed to be lifted into a  horizontal position again.