Friday, April 9, 2010

Patagonia, and Points Further South

After several days at Silverado with Belle Starr, where can one go in the old southwest except Tombstone? But first we made a brief stop at the Bisbee Food coop, where we found a wonderful surprise that added to our day, and to several other days in the future. As we were checking out, the cashier was peeling back the corn husks from a tamale. Never having had one, we had to ask, and were given rave reviews. Traditionally, they are a blend of masa (corn) and lard, and spices and chillies and whatever else was kicking around. It’s made into a fat sausage shaped thing, then wrapped in dry corn husks, and then steamed. It’s kind of a Mexican polenta. These, however, were made by gringos in Tucson, so oil instead of lard, fancier fixing’s instead of sausage or beef or dog, trendier names, and a great assortment. We went back to the freezer case, then over to the microwave, and voila, our first tamales. They were wonderful, spicy and filling and warm, covered in salsa. Hello tamales. Saving the package with the address of the makers, we bid Bisbee bye bye, and headed north on 80 towards Tombstone.

We arrived in town at close to high noon, and the streets of town were filled. We cruised the streets, looking for shade and anything else unexpected that would warrant a stop in the sweltering heat. We passed the famous OK Corral, and found it all horded in with high fences…no free shows here. If you want to see the daily re-enactment of the famous gun fight, it’s cash on the barrelhead, and the ticket will get you through the gate. The rest of the town was open to the public, and the old west probably never looked quite so good. The store fronts and shops all were in good repair, and doing a bustling business with the hoards of folks walking the streets, checking it all out. The main street was closed to traffic, which added to the old time feel, but we made several passes on the side streets, and were unable to find a place where we could find any shade to make it bearable to leave the dog. Taking this as a sign it was time to get out of town, we continued north on 80 a few miles further, then headed south and west on 82, in the direction of the modern day wild west, Nogales. This city straddles the Mexican border, and at one time was an international city that coexisted in both countries. Today, there are high walls and fences, and traffic between the Arizona city of Nogales, and the Mexican Nogales, passes through armed checkpoints. But we had heard that the city was interesting, and the best Mexican food this side of the border could be found here, so Nogales, here we come.

As we passed Sonoita, we again saw one of the “inland” Border Patrol checkpoints, stopping every vehicle heading north, but since we were heading south, we were ignored for the time being. When we were about twenty miles from Nogales and the border, we passed from the drier desert into the pretty little town of Patagonia. It had the small rural highway passing through it, with a second main street running parallel to it, and a long, wide green town park between the two roads. It seemed an inviting place to stop and stretch, as the town was full of big trees, and lots of shade, and we all wanted a break before we looked for the State Park where we planned to stay. Donna decided to venture into the town’s tourist office, and she returned after awhile with the bad news that the park was full, but the good news that there was a quiet private RV park just outside of town that was worth looking at. So we aimed out of town on one of the small winding side streets, and soon found the appropriately named Patagonia RV Park. Usually we avoid private campgrounds like this one, but it seemed to not only be close to where we wanted to be, but it had clean facilities, a little laundromat, and free WiFi. However, what convinced us to stay was there was a spot in the shade, right between two other little fiberglass trailers; a seventeen foot Casita, and a 13 foot Perris Pacer (quite a rare old beauty, that Donna had read about but never seen before). It seemed that the spot was just waiting for us, so we completed the set by putting our 15 foot Trillium between the two. There was no one in the office, but we quickly made friends with the couple in the Casita, Bill and Sylvia from Montana. They said the owner had just left for China for a bit of a holiday, but that the daughter was sort of in charge and would return at some unknown time in the future. For the time being, they said to make ourselves at home, and gave us the codes for the bathroom and games room doors, and the internet access. So we were set, and soon were enjoying that great camping custom, Happy Hour, with our new friends next door. A little while later, Kat, the owner of the little Pacer, arrived home from work at the upscale health spa up the street, and we all had a grand time telling stories and getting to know these other folks who shared our appreciation of these tiny trailers. It was a wonderful start to what turned out to be an unexpected extended stay in Patagonia.

The town itself was one of the stops of the old Santa Fe Railroad line that ran from Benson to Sonoita and Patagonia, then on to Nogales, and eventually all the way to Guaymas on the Sea of Cortez, 350 miles farther south in Mexico. In 1897, the Southern Pacific took over the line, and built the depot that still stands in the center of town, and now is Patagonia’s Town Hall. A major storm in 1929 washed out a stretch of track just west of town, and from then until 1962, the service no longer extended to Mexico, but only ran from Benson to Patagonia. In 1962, the trains stopped altogether, but recently a section of the line through town has become a walking and birding trail, that serves as an outdoor classroom for local schoolteachers, and as a tourist attraction for the area. The cheap transportation provided by the railroad at one time was crucial in making the cattle and mining industries of the area viable, which was essential in the establishment of the town; and today the rail line, though now defunct and without tracks, still helps make the town what it is. And what it is, is a vibrant little town of several thousand people, with art galleries and craft stores; a great little Mexican restaurant and a pizza place called “the Velvet Elvis;” a Montessori School and the home of a world renowned birding couple, where birds and birders both flock; a large community garden and the Tree of Life wellness center; weather that’s ten degrees cooler than Tucson and twenty cooler than Phoenix; and all surrounded by the Coronado National Forest, with the Patagonia Mountains to the south, and the Santa Rita Mountains to the north. People were friendly, the air was clear, the stars were bright, and it was a place that just felt good, both physically and spiritually. Driving the back streets, you could tell several things; that a lot of interesting people felt this same attraction and had settled here; and that there weren’t a lot of building codes and ordinances, as some of the structures and uses of the lots in town were fairly free form and free wheeling. One morning, we also walked back up into the hills outside of town, and found several long winding roads up to million dollar adobe homes, and high end canyon subdivisions. So obviously folks with money have also discovered “The Mountain Empire,” as this area is called on a map offered in the tourist bureau; but it also seems that people with limited means like ourselves have decided that this town offers enough of the good life and the interesting life and the quiet life to make it a destination, or home base. On this trip, we’ve realized that another way to explore parts of the world is to rent a place for a month, or several, at a time, and really get to understand and appreciate an area better; and Patagonia is one of those places that seem worthy of more than a few days visit. One of the other people in the RV Park was a “long term visitor“, running a meditation and counselling service from his RV (traveling to seminar sights, than doing follow-up work via the internet and Skype). When he asked us how long we planned to stay, he added that many people came for a day or two to the area, and ended up staying much longer. So we should keep an open mind. And we did. And we stayed.

On our second day there, we actually did make it down to Nogales. The twenty mile drive south was beautiful. The mountains were lovely to look at and drive through, and they also created a climate that was cooler, and moister than the surrounding desert areas, so trees, and tall trees, grew all around. As we experienced again the following day, Nogales was close enough, and the drive was so enjoyable, that making the trip there, for dinner, or to get to a larger shopping center, was not only feasible, it was a pleasant part of the whole trip. The parts of the city on our side of the border that we saw also were quite interesting. In one of the restaurants we visited, there were pictures of Nogales in the twenties and thirties. At that time, the city was just one continuous downtown, stretching out on both sides of the border. Today, of course, a fifteen foot high wall, topped with barbed wire, separates the city into two parts. But the old downtown on the US side still has the same stores and businesses that existed before. And judging by the flow of Mexicans crossing through the gates, one at a time, papers in hand, many of the same customers still shop there. I’m sure the goods have changed a bit; and the products on the shelves, and actually some of the owners of the businesses, are now made in China; but it really felt like being in a foreign country, walking the streets just north of the border. It felt much more like being in the old cities of Cuba, rather than a place in Arizona. Even in the large, more modern grocery store, the products and the clientele were definitely more Mexican than American. The large baked goods section, the meat department, and even the prepared foods, were definitely aimed at the majority of the shoppers who would be returning across the border with their shopping bags full. We didn’t venture to Mexico ourselves to see what the differences were that caused so much cross border shopping; whether it was really the difference in the quality or variety of products, or maybe just the mystique of having things from this side; but here, as in Douglas, there was a steady flow of people and products back to Mexico. However here, unlike Douglas, there still existed a large section of town that once was part of a Mexican town. Unfortunately, Nogales is a border town that is suffering from the violence of the drug and gang wars that are terrifying local residents in Mexican border towns, but we felt safe, in the daylight, exploring the old part of town. Donna explored first, and came back with some great bargains, and stories, about the shops that lined the old main street. When I took my turn away from the dog and van parked in the shade, I was happier walking the older residential streets above the shopping district, and again found homes and neighborhoods reminiscent of Cuba, both in the buildings and feeling of the streets, and in the language and smells and sounds coming from the homes. And then looking south, and seeing the parts of the city on the other side of the wall and fences, and seeing that although the city hasn’t been divided for a great number of years, the signs are obvious that the poverty is greater, and the opportunities are fewer, on the other side of the fence. But my experience was so superficial, and fleeting, that to try to appreciate and understand what is really happening, is impossible. Nevertheless, we did enjoy our brief time in Nogales, and I’m sure that time spent in the future in this part of Arizona would include more trips to Nogales.

We ended up spending four days, and three nights in Patagonia; and never once saw the daughter who supposedly was minding the RV Park. We’ve heard that whenever the owner goes away, the high standards he maintains at the Park rapidly decline. But we still had a great time. The folks from Montana were a pleasure to meet. They are retired, and spend the muddy season away from Montana. They enjoy the winter there, and summers are great too, but there’s a stretch of several months when it’s wet and muddy and cold and just unpleasant. So they do volunteer work away, this year a month here working for the Nature Conservancy in Patagonia, then later a month at a light house off the coast of Massachusetts. They love to travel and kayak and explore, and were quite a fun loving and happy couple. They sheepishly admitted that they had met via an internet service, and after she was finally convinced that he wasn’t the axe murderer all her friends warned her about, and he got over the disbelief that he was actually dating someone he met over the internet, they have settled in and have a wonderful life together, each with someone they love and appreciate. Just as I won’t be surprised if we end up back in Patagonia at some point in the future, meeting up with these folks again is something I anticipate and look forward to. Really, that is one of the best things about traveling: the interesting people you meet. Quite often, within hours, it seems that you have known them for much longer. It also seems that since you are meeting people doing similar things, in similar ways, you find people who you immediately seem compatible with, and have a bond of shared interests and beliefs. That’s also one of the best things I’ve learned from Donna; just to open up and engage in conversations with total strangers. You never know who you’ll meet, and what you’ll learn; but it’s always interesting, and if not, you can just walk away too/ But really, the people we have met have been so much a part of the experience. So it was with a bit of sadness that we said goodbye to Patagonia, and to Sylvia and Bill. But it seemed time to move on again; Tucson was calling, and the road was beckoning. Go west, young man, or something like that.

Images: Patagonia

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A whole lot of photos

We're finally getting near WiFi a lot these days, so I have now posted three different groups of photos around the enchanted mesa. If you're not photo'd out, scroll down and check 'em out after the text: demonic drivers and the enchanted mesa.

the kodak kids

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beware of Glitches

Maybe it was Roswell, maybe the little pink guy didn't like his photo taken; maybe whatever, but it seems that highlighting back posts on the side bar always brings you back to Roswell...wasn't that a song from the fifties? But I digress...if you want to go back to older posts, scroll down and click older posts (surprise, surprise) at the end of the it again to get farther back. I don't know why but that's the way it is. Good night and good luck.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Geronimo, Belle Starr, and the Old Hippies of Bisbee

From the luxuries of Safford and Roper Lake, we decided it was time to continue south, following the route and suggestions of Marianne Edwards. As part of an inspirational boondocking couple, Marianne maintains a website http//, and has a series of very informative e-books on inexpensive travel and campsites throughout the southwest. She and her husband travel in an older RoadTrek, and have different itineraries based around their discoveries, where a month’s worth of travel will rack up less than $100 in camping fees. Yes, this is the land of National Forests and BLM lands, but she has found some wonderful places, and gives great concise directions and descriptions (hmmm, concise, what a novel idea) of places along the way. So we decided to follow their tire tracks (that led us to Hot Well Dunes after Apache National Forest), and aim towards Wilcox, Chiricahua, and the Mexican border. The humidity, or lack of it, and the fact we were getting acclimatized to the heat, made another attempt to approach the border seem reasonable, and attractive. (But it’s a dry heat…actually, it’s true; it is nowhere near as oppressive, and my does the laundry dry quickly on the line, day or night.) We went down 191, skirting the yellow and orange poppy fields, realizing the true magnificence was back up the dirt Tanque road we sailed by on the way south. We went into Wilcox, a small town struggling to survive on the tourist travel industry, with an interesting old main street featuring a line of businesses putting up a good fight, behind spruced up store fronts. The railroad passed through here, and along Railroad Avenue you can find the earliest remaining original railroad depot of the Southern Pacific route, plus the Rex Allen Museum and Theatre (does anyone besides my father remember this western movie star? ) plus The Friends of Marty Robbins Museum (I remember him), plus the Wilcox Commercial general merchant, and the Buffalo Sisters Antique and gift shop. A bit of local color was added that day by the bright orange school bus of Conley’s Painting Co., “The traveling Painter;” (he had just finished painting a store front in exchange for a new set of duds); and the folks dressed in full fledged cowboy gear, getting ready to stage the weekly Saturday afternoon gun battle on Main street, not at high noon, but rather at 2:00 pm sharp. One of them looked like he was a tenderfoot, just breaking in his new boots with spurs that jingle jangle jingled; and when the local ice cream parlour couldn’t hold a candle to Roy’s, we decided waiting 90 minutes for the gun battle didn’t fit our schedule.

After saying adios to Wilcox, we headed down 186 towards the national monument. We passed Dos Cabezas, both the small town, and the twin headed peaks in the mountains that bore the same name; and then skirted past the climbing dirt road up to Fort Bowie. High mountain roads, and 8000 foot altitudes, still did not thrill either Donna, or Bucko’s brakes. Just before the entrance to Chiricahua National Monument, we took out Marianne’s RV Boondocking in Arizona ; A Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide, and decided to check out the free camping five miles up Pinery Canyon road, back into the Coronado National Forest. The road wound up into the mountains, past several functioning ranches, and stands of tall century plants. What wonderful walking sticks, Donna thought, until close inspection led us to realize that even the smallest were quite woody, and at least 6 inches in diameter at the base. The road got narrower, and higher, and prettier; and then just after five miles, there were the pull offs into little clearings and camping spots, just like Marianne said. We passed the first few, as they had large RV’s already parked, and carried on a little further until we reached a path in that only a smaller vehicle could negotiate. We wound back in among the trees, and settled onto a little spot above a babbling brook under ponderosa pines and alligator junipers, We could just see our closest neighbor’s tent through the trees upstream, and the sound of the running water covered any noise from the generators of the big rigs down the hill. We got out our chairs, set up the table, and were home. The ait was cool and crisp, and crystal clear and smelling of pine. Dawg and I wandered several miles farther up the road, saw a few other campers pulled off in their own little nooks, and just enjoyed the views of the higher peaks above us. We returned to a wonderful dinner, then off for an early night’s sleep.

It was again below freezing, but the furnace continued to function perfectly, and with the thermostat set real low, only fired up a couple of times during the night. The next morning I did the dishes in our little sanctuary in the woods, while Donna explored the countryside a bit. It was a toss up whether to go down to explore Chiricahua, or to just relax here for another day, but finally we decided to carry on to the monument. Established in 1924, this 12,000 acre park in the mountains was created to preserve and protect the unique rock pinnacles that make up this part of Arizona. The Chiricahua Apaches, who lived in this area from the 1400’s until the 1880’s, called the pinnacles “standing up rocks.” . The Chiricahua were nomadic hunters, and superb warriors, who lived in the area, and waged a constant battle against the invaders of their land, starting with the Spanish in the 1500’s. After Mexican independence in 1821, and the influx of miners and settlers, the Chiricahua, led by Cochise and Geronimo, continued their struggles against the pioneer settlements. Cochise died in 1874, and was buried in a deep grave 30 miles west of here, in a place now called the Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon mountains. His braves rode their horses over his burial site, so his final resting place would never be found. Geronimo continued the fight, but could not stop the growing influx of settlers onto their land. In 1886, they surrendered, and eventually were moved to reservations in Oklahoma and New Mexico. Their “standing up rocks” were formed from superheated layers of ash from a volcanic eruption over 25 million years ago. The rhyolite has slowly been weathered into this amazing complex mass of spires and balanced rocks. An eight mile scenic drive takes you up 1700 feet to the peak at Massai Point, and 17 miles of trails wind down the mountain through canyons, meadows, and forests, all surrounded by these incredibly diverse and interesting shapes.

Soon after the war with the Chiricahua was ended, two Swedish immigrants, Neil and Emma Erickson settled here in 1888, and established a ranch in the valley at the base of the mountains. Emma was the driving force in buying the land, and here they raised their three children. Neil served first in the army north of here, and then was the first ranger when this area was incorporated into a national monument. In 1917, one of their daughters and her husband realized that the homestead would be more profitable as a guest ranch for people wanting to experience the great outdoors, and see the wonderland of rocks that surrounded their property. From 1917, until 1973, guests could come and stay at Faraway Ranch, and enjoy the scenery and life on a ranch. We were fortunate in being here on a Sunday, one of the few times when the actual homestead is open to the public. It is still furnished with the belongings that were left when Lillian died, and the home became part of the national park. Inside , it was an interesting mix of things as old as the quilt Emma brought with her from Sweden, and as new as the sample box of Tide detergent that was used, according to the label, for both laundry and dishes. Dixie and I also took several hikes on the trails where dogs were allowed, and experienced some of the hard work done by the CCC in the thirties, when most of the extensive trails and roads were established up to Massai Point, one of the highest peaks at 6870 feet.

We then unhooked the trailer and parked it at the bottom, and drove up the winding road to the very top. It was beautiful, with vistas both up and down of the fascinating rocks. At the top, I took the nature trail, while Donna took it easy and tried to again adjust to the altitudes. Last year, she was quite sick with a respiratory illness, that might have been the swine flu. Until this trip, the lingering symptoms were a slight shortness of breath at times, and a major diminution of her sense of smell. Recently, we have discovered that whatever happened to her lungs, she now rapidly becomes debilitated at altitudes over 6000 feet. When the headache started again, we quickly prepared to go slowly down the mountain roads. We did stop several times, as the scenic pull-offs are more accessible going down, and did get to add to our rapidly growing photo journal; but the long hikes down through what are supposedly the best areas of rock formations, will have to wait for our return visit. At the bottom, we hooked up the trailer, and started out journey farther south.

We took 181 to 191, and traveled down the Sulphur Springs Valley through Elfrida, a pretty little town that was still making a go of it, and then McNeil, that wasn’t doing as well. We sidetracked over to a bird sanctuary at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Sanctuary, but the sand hill cranes that over winter here by the thousands had left for the year, leaving behind a free camping area that was too hot and barren for our liking. We did meet an interesting couple, who recommended a stop in Douglas, and a visit to the Gadsden Hotel. Not saying more than it was quite a surprising, and worth a visit, we decided to take their advice and go first into town before continuing on to Silverado. Douglas is a busy town, with a quite active border crossing into Mexico. The old downtown still has a number of existing businesses, and has one of the more prosperous and still active historic downtowns of any city we’ve seen yet. And there in the middle of it standing tall, are the twin towers of the Gadsden Hotel. The exterior was nothing really special, and we had to look closely to discover the entrance into the main lobby, but once through the doors, we immediately stepped back in time at least fifty years. The lobby was huge, with a big old reception area, tall marble columns capped in gold, and grand marble stairs that went up to a mezzanine that circled the main open area. And arching over the high ceilings, and filling a larger section of the south wall, were huge stained glass windows. The 42 foot stained glass mural is an original Tiffany, and was breathtaking. Built in 1907, before Arizona was a state, it was always the place to be for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen traveling in the area. In later years, several movies were shot here, including “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.“ In 1976, it was proclaimed a National Historic Monument, and probably hasn’t changed much since then. For Haligonians, it was something like the lobby of the Lord Nelson Hotel, across from the public gardens, but larger, grander, with a four sided balcony, and then , all this lovely, colourful stained glass. They must be used to gawkers, because no one bothered us as we sat in the big leather lounge chairs and stared up and around. And Donna just merrily walked around and took photos of the windows, and the old bar of to one side, and the original dining room, and all the features that really hadn’t changed much from when the Gadsden was the finest hotel for miles and miles around. It was Easter Sunday, so the restaurant had a special dinner, but had reduced most of the rest of the menu, so we decided that a breakfast in the old dining room would be more to our liking the next day, and we could still experience a bit of retro d├ęcor. Being late, we also decided that the Wal-Mart would be safe and quiet, and we could get an oil change first thing in the morning, before heading back. We found a nice corner in the lot, and heard very festive music coming from just beyond the trees that grew along one side. When we explored a bit further, we realized that we were literally right next to the border, and we were hearing Mexican music actually coming from Mexico. The other thing that was coming from Mexico was a constant stream of customers. We were within walking distance of the crossing point, so there was a never ending stream of people, walking to the Wal-Mart, doing their shopping, pushing their cart to the edge of the lot, and then trundling their bundles back home to Mexico. We learned they are allowed fifty dollars duty free per person, per visit, so at times whole families would come at once when a big shop was planned. Yup, mom, dad, little Maria, young Pedro, and even the bambino, all were entitled to the fifty dollar allowance. It made for an interesting evening, as we sat outside our trailer and ate our dinner of beans and tortillas, waving and saying hola to all the Mexicans on their way to shop. Oh, those crazy gringos, they must have been thinking. But we all smiled, and laughed, and had a good evening, and then a good night‘s sleep, knowing the security guard, and the police, and the border patrol all would be keeping an eye on the goings on in the parking lot.

The next morning, all went well with the oil change, until I hooked the trailer back up, and realized that I didn‘t have a functioning right stop light or blinker on the trailer. I decided this was the place to try to fix it, but spent several hours futilely trying to find the short or problem. I eventually thought it was a problem in the 7 way plug from the trailer to the van, but replacing it didn’t solve the problem. Frustrated and hot , I realized we had missed our breakfast date, and the day was getting on. So we hooked up, and headed out to Silverado Ranch, the home of Belle Starr and all her animals. Belle is now 83, and has been running a small ranch here since the late 1980‘s. She was always a bit of a celebrity, and famous horse person, and on one of her many adventures, came to this part of the world, fell in love with the area, and on a momentary whim, decided to buy this little forty acre ranch between Douglas and Bisbee, four miles north of the Mexican border. She raises horse and burros, peacocks and dogs, and has over 100 different animals on the ranch. She has a big sign out front, boondockers welcome, and you can either make the suggested $10 donation, or lend a hand on the farm. Some folks stay for a day, some for a week, some longer, but all are welcome to stay and have a good time. Not knowing what to expect, we swung open the front gate, drove in, and were soon greeted by three dogs and a burro. Many horses checked us out from behind various fences, but there was no sign of any humans. While I walked a bit with the dog, getting her used to the sight and smell of so many strange creatures, Donna went to the house and met Belle. Half an hour later, Donna came out, said we’re staying, and I should go introduce myself to Belle. She’s a remarkably positive, cheerful, energetic, slightly crazy in a good way, little old lady. Last year she fell and broke her hip, and now she has a touch of MS in her other leg, so she gets around in a wheel chair, and doesn’t get out much. She has a couple of hired hands helping with the animals, but we never saw hide nor hair of them . When we came, she was working on a proposal to open her farm up to veterans, and people with disabilities, so they could come and recuperate, and heal, and enjoy the peace and healing powers of life on a ranch. She also spoke of getting her fancy old carriage operating again, and having a place where weddings could be held. In a week or so she was off to Phoenix, to speak with some folks who wanted to do a documentary on her life. On one hand, you see an 83 year old woman, living all alone, in a wheel chair, with an old ranch full of animals, everything needing more TLC and attention than they are now getting, and you think, this is a disaster happening. But then you meet Belle, and feel her energy and spirit, and you wonder how it all keeps going, but it does, and she does, and it’s all very special.

We drove out back, found a spot on the edge of a clearing in the desert, and settled in. I thought and did some more work on the wiring, to no avail, and then decided to add new lights, simply bypassing the old wiring and rigging them independently. The next morning, we also decided to unhook the trailer, and go explore Bisbee, an old mining town just west of here. Bisbee was founded in 1880 high in the Mule Mountains, and the rich mineral deposits discovered in the surrounding hills helped it develop at one time into the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Victorian homes and buildings sprung up in on the hills above the main street, and in the 1970’s, when the modern mine closed down (there’s still a HUGE open pit (now a tourist photo op) just next to the center of town as testimony to the scale of the operation), fifty thousand people still lived there. Hard times led to an almost total abandonment of town, except for a few die hards, and the hippies and entrepreneurs who liked the climate and the proximity to Mexico, and a then relatively unprotected border. We heard stories of large buildings in town going for $1000, and homes for a song. But then more people heard of the place, with it’s charming architecture, its summers cooler and its winters warmer than any where else in Arizona, and the influx began. Now it’s a flourishing tourist destination, and retirement location for folks from California, Colorado, the East Coast, wherever people want to escape from where they are, and move to a trendy, modern thinking, vibrant community of slightly crazy people. The houses are colourful and the number of old VW’s on the streets attests to the recent hippie roots of the town, but there’s an active microbrewery, a great natural food coop, coffee shops, and cafes, and galleries galore. At first a little off putting with its trendiness, after a while, it seemed like a place you could settle in for a while, find a rental home somewhere in the hills, and chill out or stay warm during a month or two in the winter. We settled for exploring the winding, climbing streets and stairways around the main core, driving to the top of the canyon and seeing the wonderful little charming homes everywhere, and having a memorable pizza with the best crust ever in a little park to end our day in Bisbee. I dropped Donna back at Silverado, then carried on back into Douglas to buy the parts and wiring I needed for the new lights.

The next morning, I checked one more thing based on a midnight hunch, and realized the problem was actually in the little converter box that changes the separate brake light and signal light of the van, into a single circuit that operates the lamp on the trailer. So early in the morning, I returned last night’s acquisitions, the searched town for the replacement converter I needed. After an hour and a half, and a tour into several far corners of Douglas, I realized what I needed was at least 90 miles away and I would have to make do with a little creative finagling with a spare part I already had in my bag of tricks I carried with me. Back at the ranch, 90 minutes of tinkering, and the lights were now better and brighter than ever. Hooray, but what a process. Isn’t life just a series of learning experiences, especially when you’re on the road, traveling in foreign territories, away from your hometown safety nets and resources. As much as it was tempting to stay and try to help Belle with her adventures, it was too hot, and too dry, and we would need another lifetime to try and become part of Silverado, and Belle’s continuing dreams and vision. So after readjusting the trailer brakes, and installing the new ink cartridges we got for Belle’s printer as a thank you and contribution to her efforts, we swung the gate closed one last time on this truly unique place run by a one of a kind lady, Miss Belle Starr. We hope she is still well when we venture this way again, and the universe continues to give her what she needs.

Images: Geronimo et al