We’ve spent the last seven months in Arizona which is way longer than we planned. There’s no need to expound on an explanation as the dreaded virus is in the news every waking minute. Our RV park in the little town of Benson was the safest place for us to stay so stay we did.
Our coach was scheduled for a service appointment and securing that appointment requires it to be made at least six months in advance so re-scheduling is not an option. Normally we will take as much as six weeks to make the trek to Michigan site seeing along the way. This time we’ll do the twenty-one hundred mile trip it in a week. For us, a pace we’re not used to!
An advantage of staying in the desert SW in spring is watching the desert come alive with a rainbow of colors. Most cactus bloom mid to late spring. The downside is it’s really Hot! “Oh, it’s a dry heat” some will say.
As we prepared to leave, the forecast high for mid-week is 104! Dry or not, that’s HOT!!
Making our way back brings us through those states that are known for some pretty nasty weather and of course we were in store for some of what they’re famous for. Rain, rain, and more rain combined with severe thunderstorms, tornado warnings, and just for fun, fog!
The one clear dry day gave us a chance to enjoy a few moments in an Oklahoma rest area. Although these guys seemed content to graze, getting a little attention from us was okay as well!
So we’re back in Indiana and the Newmar Service Center and the transition is complete. We’ve gone from this……..
The US is crisscrossed with major highway systems designed to move us quickly from place to place. The downside of traveling this way is you miss so much of the beautiful and interesting places that there are to see.
We’ve been hunkered down in our favorite winter park in Benson AZ since November. This is a small town and not exactly a mecca of tourist activity. But, it is convenient to so many great places to visit and explore. And now that we have this crazy virus thing everywhere, we won’t be moving anytime soon.
In my mind, I’ve pictured the desert and a dry, dusty, baron place devoid of anything other than cactus and rattlesnakes. The reality is exactly the opposite. It’s a vibrant lush environment teeming with life. There’s a number of varieties of cactus most of which flower in the spring. Wildflowers carpet the hillsides with bright yellow, red, and orange. If you’re lucky, you might see deer, antelope, javelina, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, and even a black bear! (who knew!) There are wild horses too but not easily found.
The mountains have over 3000 mines dating back to the 1800s which have been abandoned. Many of these still have some of the old equipment and structures. There are also abandoned homesteads some of which still have the furniture in place.
Visiting and enjoying the mountains and deserts is not the only thing you can do off the beaten path. So instead of focusing this post on one specific topic, I thought I would share some of the other places and sights we’ve enjoyed here in the southwest.
As I write this, I’m inundated with what seems like endless advertising.” “Only ten shopping days ’til Christmas” I’m told by the news anchor! I’m reminded that store “A” is open at 6 am. Store “B” is open 24 hrs for my shopping convenience! My email is jammed with ads. Walmart will remain open on Christmas Eve! MasterCard, Visa, Discover card all pushing their promotions over,,,,,, and over,,,,,, and over! These are the times we live in. It seems that the meaning of Christmas is defined by sales projections and retail bottom lines. Is this what Christmas is all about? Have we lost the true meaning? Where’s the magic?
A number of years ago, our family chose to re-define our meaning of Christmas. We had fallen on harder times with unexpected expenses and Christmas gift-giving was not to be. We decided that rather than getting caught up in the hype of spending, we would make gifts for each other. To do this would require each of us to search our hearts in order to create a meaningful gift that would last a lifetime. The results were nothing short of amazing! It was our magic. To this day, it’s my best Christmas.
So Where is the magic? Sometimes you’ll find it in the strangest of places.
We have been under the weather for some time but now on the mend, we just need to get out of the coach so we ventured down the road to Tombstone for an afternoon out. Tucked away from the tourist town is an antique mall much like others that dot the state. But this one was much different. “Are you here to see Santa?” we were asked as we entered. “He’s in the back along with hot chocolate and cookies.” Slightly puzzled we wandered the store. And low and behold…
Kris Kringle himself!
With a twinkle in his eye, his rosey cheeks, and white beard, we watched the magic happen as a little girl shook with excitement gazing upon Santa. Is it possible that we found the magic of Christmas in an antique mall?
So the question still stands. Where’s the magic? Well, it’s there, you just have to look harder. It’s in the volunteer that rings the bell outside the grocery store. It’s in the Marine that collects and distributes the Toys for Tots. It’s in those who help serve the meals to the homeless or deliver them to the less fortunate. It’s in the antique store where one person is proof that the magic of Christmas does exist.
So yes, it’s that time of year and like it or not, the constant media assault will continue. Do yourself a favor and turn off CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Close the computer and forget about all the hype and look around you. Do you see it? Where’s your magic?
And just remember, He’s watching!
To our many friends across the country and our loving family, we wish you all a merry and magical Christmas!
Located some 45 miles southeast of Tucson and surrounded by several mountains is the small town of Benson. It’s a town that time seems to have passed by. Five thousand people call Benson “home” with many of those being retired having relocated here for the abundant sunshine and slow pace.
There’s no big industry here, no huge shopping centers, no high rise condo’s and with only three traffic lights, no traffic jams. You’ll find the local Walmart to be half the size of others and if you’re looking for gourmet dinning …well you’re out of luck.
What you will find though is a town with friendly people, cafe’s with home style cooking, and a community with Heart!
Once a year, Benson has a fall festival that attracts the entire community. Like most festivals it has its fair share of food vendors and local artisans. There’s music, the ever popular “Funnel Cakes” and “Elephant Ears” and the Bar-b-que brisket is touted to be the best in town! Of course the town mayor is making his rounds making sure all are having a good time and scoring votes for the next election!
Then Night falls. Like a scene from “Field of Dreams” the cars are lined up waiting to pass the gate. People gather claiming the perfect spot. Anticipation fills the air. You can sense that something spectacular is about to happen!
The best has been saved for last. You see, each admission includes a hot air lantern. With “What a Wonderful World” playing over the loud speakers, all are lit and released. Hundreds and hundreds! The night sky bursts with light as far as the eye can see.
All around adults and children alike were gazing into the night sky with smiles on their faces. What a beautiful moment this was.
For a breif moment, the simple little town of Benson Arizona was the guiding light for all to see!
Being from the Midwest my impression of Arizona has been a few big cities in the middle of the desert surrounded by dust and dirt. Though the latter may be somewhat true, what I never imagined were the beautiful mountains, lush green canyons, crystal clear streams and deep blue skies!
We settled down for a month in Camp Verde AZ. with the sole purpose of making day trips. And travel we did! By car….
And by train!
While visiting old town Cottonwood, a local told us that the Verde Canyon train ride was a “must do”. Following the advise we made our reservations. The train, a restored fifties era engine as well as vintage passenger cars refurbished with plush furniture and western decor. In between the passenger cars were open air platform cars which allowed for 360 degree viewing.
We boarded and sat back for the 20 mile 5 hr. trip. The champagne and hors d’oeuvres were a nice touch! The scenery? Well , I’ll let that speak for itself.
At the end of the 20 mile trip is the town of Perkinsville. It’s not much of a town but is the site of an old western movie set. At this point the engine moves on to a siding and relocates to what was the end of the train. The engine then reconnects for the trip back.
One of our day trips was to Montezuma’s Castle. It’s not a castle but an ancient cliff dwelling. And Montezuma was never there! Go figure! It seems that the explorers who found the site called it that and the name stuck.
Arizona claims the site as their National Monument and it’s managed and maintained by the National Park Service.
The castle is popular spot for photographers and tourist alike including those who choose to capture the moment the old fashioned way!
There’s so much to see and do here. Arizona is rich in natural beauty and culture. We’re so happy to be here!
There are times when writing about our travels is so easy. When I recall the experience through Susan’s photography the words just seem to flow. In fact most often I have an idea of how I’ll write about what we’ve seen long before my fingers hit the keys! This is not one of those times.
So why was this place so different? Monument Valley Utah is one of those places that words can’t describe. Yes, it’s beautiful! Yes, it’s Awesome! But those descriptive adjectives don’t do it justice.
You’ve seen pictures of Monument Valley. It’s on calendars, postcards, travel brochures etc. It’s been the setting for several movies. Remember the running scene in “Forest Gump”? Not until you are standing in the valley with these giant monoliths can you appreciate the majesty of this place.
The Valley is technically located on the line between Utah and Arizona. However, it is on the Navaho reservation and they refer to it as the Navaho Nation. Should you ask which state you are in the response will be “Navaho Nation.”
Since it is on the reservation, and a major tourist attraction, the tribe has capitalized on it by offering guided tours, a lodge/hotel and of course, a casino! Entering the valley by car involves a fee and a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
There are a few Navaho families that call the valley home. They live modestly and make their living offering beautiful hand made jewelry and crafts.
Our guide took us to places off limits to others who choose to just drive the approximate twenty mile loop road. We were treated to a wealth of local history, smells of the vegetation that excited the senses, and geological formations too huge to describe!
Our guide asked us to join him in a tribal dance while he sang a traditional Navaho song. A very spiritual experience!
The RV park was only a few miles from Monument Valley and was beautiful in its own right. Hiking here is a bit challenging (5800 ft. in elevation) for those of us who aren’t as young as we think we are!
Monument Valley has been on our bucket list since day one. And now we can add this to the many beautiful places we have seen and had the good fortune to have truly experienced.
It seems we like turning right and this year is no exception. This is going to be a fast trip with aggressive travel plans. You see, normally we just take our time and spend a week or more wherever we stop. Not this time.
Our plans call for moving to a different location just about every day. Our destination is in the Navaho Nation, Monument Valley, Utah. We were lucky to get a spot in the RV park there considering the park usually fills up a year in advance. Nineteen hundred miles! Ready? Let’s do it!
A quick stop is in order in Nappanee IN to visit with fellow RV friends. We make a quick visit and make our way to Effingham Ill and a delightful over night stay at Tuscan Hills Winery. Peaceful and the wine was fabulous! With the wine cabinet stocked were off!
Next stop is Marshfield , MO. Just a place to spend the night. Certainly nothing special. The next morning we’re moving on!
Since our route somewhat parallels our trip last year we were able to revisit some of our past nightly stays. One such stop was in Oklahoma which you might recall from a post last year was the scene of our mighty Dutch Star getting stuck while visiting an alpaca farm. We passed on the farm this time and chose instead to stay in the small town of Grove. Two nights here and we’re gone!
Keeping up the pace, we make our way to Oklahoma City for an overnight. Blueberry muffins for breakfast, compliments of the park, and we are on the road. Next stop Amarillo, Texas!
A big draw in Amarillo is the Big Texan Steak House. If you can eat a 72 oz steak……with shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad and roll all within an hour your meal is free! Was I up for the challenge? OH HELL NO! I had trouble eating all of the 12oz version.
The restaurant has a great deal in that they will pick you up at your RV, deliver you to the restaurant, and return you in a classic limo with what else?…. Horns on the hood!
Move’n on. Driving across the panhandle of Texas is just plain boring! Flat open prairie for as far as you can see. Come to think of it I didn’t hardly move the steering wheel in three hundred miles!
Albuquerque NM is our next stop. High Desert RV park located west of the metro area is as described…desert! And let’s not forget Albuquerque is home to the famous balloon festival.
After a long drive I need to stretch. You know, get the kinks out! So a stroll around the park is in order. Not paying much attention other than walking down the middle of the road I hear the sound guaranteed to send chills and fear right down to the bone …… RATTLESNAKE!
Two more steps and he would of had me! My heart pounding out of my chest I jumped sideways to stay out of reach. Susan called the park manager who asked us to keep an eye on it (SERIOUSLY?!) until the snake authority arrived!
Subsequent walks around the park are hereby cancelled until further notice!
Enough excitement for one stop. Let’s keep going!
If you remember the song “Take it Easy” by The Eagles then you know you have to be “Stand’n on the corner in Winslow Arizona such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl my lord in a flatbed ford slow’n down to take a look at me.”
That song put Winslow back on the map as a tourist attraction as it once was back in the 1930’s.
Post depression saw a boom in travel and train travel was quite popular. A stop in Winslow meant a stay at the very upscale La Posada Hotel. The hotel hosted many past movie stars and flourished into the seventies.
Trains were replaced by air travel and the hotel closed and remained so until it was saved from the wrecking ball in the 90s.
Step off a train and you’re greeted by western motif, desert landscape, awesome restaurant, and comfortable accommodations. La Posada is a real gem in Winslow.
We’re within a days drive from Monument Valley. All most there!
In the blink of and eye, our summer in Michigan has again come and gone. It seems as we age, seasons go by with increasing frequency. Such is life and why we’re grateful for the time we spend with family and friends.
And speaking of passing time, this summer we celebrated twenty five years together. I can’t imagine my life without my Susan by my side. And the fact that she has put up with me all these years is truly amazing!
You can’t have a celebration without family Right? So celebrate we did!!
As long as we’re talking about celebrations, this summer again was the scene of the second annual “Cousins Crew” RV get-a -way. It’s our way of celebrating all four grand kids birthdays at once. So off we go to their favorite RV park for two days of constant entertainment!
Keeping the celebrating going was the birthday of my beautiful daughter Alisha. (Not to worry honey, I won’t say how many!)
Michigan has many beautiful areas to visit and after living there for forty plus years I figure we have pretty much seen it all. Not so!
It was a pleasure to re-connect with our friends Jo and JoAnn who are past workmates (Susan’s) and residents of Grand Haven. We were treated to and afternoon of great conversation in the midsts of their landscaping that is just stunning!
Joe is a long time Harley guy so its only appropriate that the garden has a gargoyle biker!
Mother Nature decided to send one of her lighting bolts down to their back yard which claimed one of the trees. Not to be outdone, they hired an artisan to transform what could have been a stack of firewood to a beautiful sculpture!
Well done you two.!……And thanks for having us!
Last but not least is our RV park buddy “Duke” He’s sixty pounds of happiness that has taken a liking to us. No matter where we are in the park, he comes running…….Some times soaking wet! See you next year Duke!
So ends our summer of 2019 and once again we make our way west. It’s always bitter sweet. This marks our fourth year of traveling this extraordinary country. There is Excitement for the journey that lays ahead, sadness as we say our good-byes.
Tucked away in the midst of the Smokey Mountains is a valley that is a step back in time. A “cove” in mountain vernacular, is a relatively flat valley between two mountains or ridges. In this case, Cades Cove, now part of the Smokey Mountains National park, was once a settlement for 132 families dating from 1821.
Tennessee, either through outright purchase or by eminent domain, acquired the settler’s land in 1934 and donated it to the Federal Government for park development. Some fought the procurement all the way to the Supreme Court but ultimately lost. The residents of the cove were able to continue to live on the property until their deaths. Their descendants were not. The last Post Office closed in 1947.
Some of the homesteads have been preserved along with a few churches and their cemeteries however most have given way to time.
Driving to the Cove takes you along a fast moving winding stream and tunnel of trees. Once there the road narrows to one lane and one way for the next eleven miles past the restored homesteads and over looks.
Gaze across the valley and you might catch a glimpse of a Black Bear with cubs or a herd of dear. Spot either and you will surely to be in a massive traffic jam! On our day, waaaayy off in the distance was a bear……… BEARLY (Oh I just had to!) visible. Traffic? Well no one was moving …except the bear! And if you squint real hard……..You get the idea! Oh well..It’s a nice shot anyway.
A visit to Cades Cove is a nice change from the commercialism that exist in other parts of the Smokies. It’s definitely worth the trip!
For us, it’s time to move on to the final leg of our return to Michigan. It’s family time!
Sometimes in our travels we just have to acquiesce and be a tourist. And since we’re in SE Tennessee, Gatlinburg /Pigeon Forge fits the bill. As a matter of fact, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are one giant family playground guaranteed to melt your credit card!
You can find an endless supply of tee shirt/souvenirs shops, theme park style attractions, alpine slides, zip lines, restaurants etc. etc. all in the shadow of the Smokey Mountains.
There are a couple of attractions that are well worth battling the crowds and traffic. One is the Aquarium and the other is the newest attraction called Anakeeska.
Getting to Anakeeska requires a chair lift ride to the top of the mountain which at times you are dangling 75 feet up. Not for the faint of heart!
Once at the top, you’re greeted with a fabulous view complete with rocking chairs, beautiful gardens, a great lunch spot and walk in the tree tops.
A few years back, this whole area fell victim of a catastrophic forest fire that was deliberately set. The fire destroyed several hundred area homes, businesses, and devastated acres of precious woodlands.
Though Mother Nature is working hard to repair the land, the scars of the fire will be visible for years to come.
The Smokey Mountains are spectacular in their own right and the Gatlinburg area has much to offer for family fun. If you decide to make the trip, just be prepared for the crowds.