As we are wrapping up our tour around New Mexico, the next big leg of our journey is coming close; South America! But before we get on the flight to Chile, we have one more week to enjoy Southeast Arizona.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
We say our goodbyes to Bob, drive down his driveway on to the south – spotting a family of javelinas! – , where we fill up for around 3USD/gallon one last time before we drive into the more expensive states again. It is still not very warm, but our main concern for the next few days is rain, so we cross fingers and toes as we continue on towards Fort Bowie.
The fun part about Fort Bowie is that you have to take a 1.5 mile hike to get there, through the area with plenty of historical places along the way. The pass the fort was built in, Apache Pass, was also dubbed ‘pass of chance’… you never knew if you were going to come out of it in one piece with plenty of Apache ready to challenge you. Other, more peaceful tribes also lived here, and their history gets mingled with the Americans on several occasions.
We manage to make it in and out without any rain, and the visitor center is a great place to figure out how the area became so important. You can just imagine how the mail chariot rolled along the path and the relief when setting sight on the fort as a safe haven. We are also told that the six NPS sites in southeast Arizona actually also offer pins in the ‘hike4health’- challenge, a pin you receive when you have hiked 3 miles in the NPS site. With 5 out of 6 on the agenda this week, we have a new goal set!
The drive out is a bumpy one, crossing over an unpaved pass – no violent Apache thankfully, but the violence of the road is enough – to avoid a 65mile detour. Driving further we are unlucky at the camping we tried to get to, so we take another VERY bumpy and muddy road to a National Forest to park beside the road. The night is very rainy, which makes us a bit wary about driving out again, but we are sure our Jerry will make it out.
Chiricahua National Monument
Thankfully the way back always feel shorter than the way in, so we drive slowly back to Chiricahua the next morning and pull into the visitor center for some JR books before making the 8 mile scenic drive up the mountain. We have the Ed Briggs – Hailstone – Echo Canyon loop on the plans today, a 3.5 mile hike through the hoodoos of the Chiricahua NM. After Bryce Canyon, this is one of 3 main sites that has hoodoos, and zigzagging through them while climbing is a real treat.
Heading back to the RV, we take a right towards Massai Point, the highest point on the scenic drive which has a small nature trail around it explaining the surroundings and scenery in the distance. As the park is at a crossroads of 2 different deserts and 2 mountain ranges, the flora and fauna is very diverse. With quite some Native American/Spaniard/American action in the surroundings (Fort Bowie is just on the other side of the range) one can only imagine how these hoodoos were scaled back in the day. With trails set up by the CCC during the Great Depression, the park is an absolute joy to spend a day in!
Sven puts on his running shoes to take the road downhill and help out by removing some of the fallen rocks on the way. The rest of us drives down to the visitor center where we enjoy watching some more blue angrybirds while we wait for Sven to come down. Of course we also claim our 2nd ‘hike4health’-pin! With a time difference of 8 hours, we dial into a whatsapp call with our friends in the Netherlands on the visitor Wi-Fi, to roll into the(ir) New Year!!
We drive off after sending many happy NY greetings, and as we roll south, are joined by very big groups of birds in the sky; Sandhill Cranes. Turns out 2/3rd of the population that winters in south Arizona stays at a lake nearby, which they fly back into at the end of the day after feeding themselves. As this is also the place we will spend the night at, we all seem to ‘go home’ and the sunset looks quite magical with them on their way. Unfortunately they also turn out to be a quite loud bunch, so our night is full of crane chatter 😊. No fireworks to be seen in any direction… odd to have a NY like this!
Coronado National Memorial
Saying goodbye to the bird friends we cross the plains with a heavy wind pushing against the RV and some proper rain coming our way. As nice as the rainbow that precedes it is, it is also a sign of not so great weather today, when we had planned some more outdoor fun. Crossing mountain range number one, we see again a valley with some clear sky, but unfortunately we are heading straight towards to next mountains with gray clouds surrounding it.
The destination is Coronado National Memorial, a place commemorating the expedition done by Spaniard Coronado, coming from Mexico into the north. While the only remnants of this are the explanations of the visitor center – no archaeological finds seen here – the place has a few nice attractions to fill the day.
First of there is the Coronado Cave, a 0,5-mile hike up the hill and then a scramble down a cave with plenty of side tracts to explore. The boys pull out their gloves and hit the tunnels, doing plenty of crawling and pushing mom and dad to go on all fours as well and accompany them. It is a very fun tour, moreover because it is raining outside – which is nice when you are inside a comfi cave – we are the only ones in the cave!
After this, we drive up to the Montezuma Pass following a 2-mile dirt road, to get to the highest point of the Memorial for lunch. As we have our sandwiches the sky starts to clear and we actually start seeing what lies beneath; a stretched out valley cut in half by a dark line à The Wall!
With the sky clearing up we decide to divide and conquer: Sven goes up the mountain top with Bo and drives the RV down after it, while Kim & Luc take the 3+ mile hike down along the mountain ridge back to the visitor center. While VERY windy on both routes, we all make it down safely and hit the visitor center for the JR badges and 4 ‘hike4health’-pins! 3 down, 2 more to go! We find a spot to camp in the Patagonia Lake State Park campground, where we enjoy a hot shower and some soup with Texas toast before calling it a night.
Tumacacori National Historic Site
Our first stop today is the Walmart, to get some free wifi and prep our travels to South America. With Covid-19 there is quite a list of requirements to be fulfilled, and Omicron has not made it any easier. Thankfully we have been able to get the most important things in order (we are all vaccinated, tickets are booked, accommodation in Chile is arranged), so now the main hurdle to take is a negative PCR test. As we have experienced how you can have Covid-19 without having any symptoms, we are never sure if the test comes back negative :-(. Besides the travel requirements, we are also buying a car, so we have a lot of contact with the agency that helps us get this going. Never a dull moment!
After wrapping up we do one last round of Walmart shopping for the final days in the States, and then it is on to some more sightseeing in the afternoon – Tumacacori. This is another site of former missionaries, with the grounds still nicely kept even if the buildings have worn down largely. The Junior Ranger program is a fun scavenger hut for relics and other elements, while we also get treated to a freshly baked tortilla (done like the old days) with beans – YUMMMM! We of course also hike along the Santa Cruz river to qualify for our 4th ‘hike4health’-pin, and are spoiled with blue skies and sunshine.
As we head north the weather forecast is good, so we will be able to warm up again and enjoy the outdoors without hats and coats. We find a spot on a mountain road with views all around, for a good night sleep. The wind has died down, temperatures are up, what else do we want?
Saguaro National Park
With a few more days to go, we mix some necessary chores with sightseeing, so today as we drive into Tucson we head straight to a laundromat for our last big laundry. In the meantime, the boys visit the outlet stores for some last clothes shopping. The weather is great again, so after we are done with the chores we head straight toward the western unit of Saguaro National Park. The Saguaro is the enormous cactus you know from stories and pictures, mostly combined with cowboys and stretched out deserts. The city Tucson is built in an area which is covered in these cacti, and because of this the National Park protecting them is split in 2; a western and an eastern unit.
We start with the western unit today and quickly find out why these giant cacti need protecting. They flower/procreate only after 30 years, and their arms/legs don’t come out until they are 60-75 years old! While the built of Tucson has already destroyed part of this unique area, the protection by NPS is a great way to keep the Saguaro for generations to come. We drop by the visitor center for an introduction to the area and the JR workbook. We also check the ‘hike4health’ options to collect our 5th pin this week, and fortunately there are plenty.
First we do the natural trail of half a mile to get into the habitat and learn about the plants and animals that we might run into. Then we head out to the Gould Mine Trail, a trail that leads us up the ridge of the Almero Peak. We pass the old mine (still deep enough to hear the small rock drop to its depths) and make it all the way up in a 2-mile climb. After this we go back down and follow the King’s Canyon wash trail back, which means following the ‘river bed’ back down to the RV. In total we cover almost 5 miles, which is more than enough for our final ‘hike4health’-pin down here.
Having made it back to the RV, we decide it is time again to try one of the fast food chains of the US (we promised the boys we would try another chain once every month), and end up at Jack in the Box. Not bad, bit of a random menu with mini taco’s and fried jalapenos, but also burgers and chicken strips… We take the doughnut balls as desert, as we missed out on the Dutch ‘oliebollen’ this year for New Years eve, and call it a night.
The next day we do some more chores and then head out to the eastern side of the Saguaro park. 2 more hikes here and Sven runs the scenic drive around the park as we take the nature trail and learn some more about desert life. Getting to our place to sleep for the night turns out to be more challenging then expected, with a bad paved and a horrible unpaved stretch to get there. The view across the valley are spectacular though, so worth the effort of getting up there in the first place :-).
PCR & Casa Grande Ruins
Big day ahead of us, with many stops and things to do, but also a great end destination; our friends Chris, Jeanette and Maverick! But to start the day of well, we need to do a round of PCR tests to get on to our flight to Chile. As the Omicron version is pushing record high numbers of Covid in the US (more than 1 million positive cases in one day) the availability of PCR tests and the capacity to analyze them goes down very quickly. To be safe we decide to bet on 2 horses: A free clinic with a first come, first serve policy, and our appointments at CVS we had already made 2 weeks earlier.
At the free clinic, we are early to go stand in line. As we register and wait outside for the place to open, we hear that results can take as long as 10 (!!) days, which of course will not fit our 72hr slot, of which 14 hrs had already passed by then :-(. They also do a quick antigen test though, which at least gives us an idea if we should be concerned about testing positive. Granted I have not lost my taste again recently, but with our vaccination status we could very well be asymptomatic and not know we are infected.
At CVS we receive our test kits outside in the drive through and do our thing, where they tell us it is busier than normal, so the results might come in 1-3 days… better than the first option, but still very risky. As both are free, we decide to take a gamble, as we can always decide to pay a whopping 249+ dollars per test if we REALLY have to (ouch… these private labs really know how to milk a situation…). With fingers and toes crossed we start making our way northwest towards Phoenix. We fill up our propane tank again, do some last purchases at hardware stores, final groceries for our Dutch dinner tonight and off we go.
At Casa Grande, we visit one of the largest pueblo structures to be left standing in the US. The JR work is a fun scavenger hunt across the premises, with a massive owl in the top of the roof as a bonus! We have lunch and get going towards Phoenix to do a last shopping round at IKEA (need to replenish some of the bargains!) and dump our tank before we can store it at our friends place.
When arriving at Chris & Jeanette’s it really feels like home. We start cooking dinner immediately; a fine spread of ‘hutspot’, ‘boerenkool’ and ‘andijviestamppot’, with a sausage and gravy of course! We got them some gifts along the way, and generally spend a lovely evening unwinding. The next day is a full day of clearing out the RV and packing our bags, while doing some maintenance and fixing/replacing things. Thankfully Chris is helping out, which is always great as he is a very experienced mechanic (and loves fixing stuff), and the boys are fully entertained by Maverick. We have a very late and fun night drinking, playing games and enjoying our friends’ company… How lucky are we!!?? Still stressed about a potential lack of test results we go to bed late.
Next week: On to Chile??