• On the Road 3 —Bullhead City to Tucson
  • So hard to leave our campsite at Keough Hot Springs and our beloved Sierra mountains. We drove south on Hwy. 395 and connected to I-40 heading east to Arizona and our first campsite. Besides the freeway being in poor repair, we were at the mercy of big rigs speeding along, tail gating each other with menace enough to force over whoever was ahead. As if 75 mph is not fast enough! Luckily we missed the drama because drove at 55 mph in the slow lane.
  • Stopped for lunch in Barstow at a family-run working people’s Mexican restaurant—Plata’s Mexican food, which has no website, but great reviews. Loved my enchiladas, rice and beans.
  • More than a month prior to having our reservation accepted at the Colorado River Oasis, Sabrina, the office manager, requested that we submit a photo of our trailer, since they did not accept rigs older than 10 years. Okay. Never had this kind of request before. We submitted photos, along with a photo of Bill wearing a suit jacket celebrating our son Raymond’s graduation from OSU with a civil engineering degree. The photos convinced them we weren’t riffraff. We thought we’d be going to a swanky place. 
  • Colorado River Oasis
  • Swanky sardines parked in a gravel lot off Hwy. 95 with motorists, many missing mufflers, is what we got. We were packed like a minnow among big fish — ginormous rigs with popouts towered over little Marion. The big rigs here are three and four times bigger than our little trailer, which measures 11×8. 
  • Meeting our next-door neighbor while she vaped at her picnic table, we learned that she sold her house in New York and she and her sullen hubby were looking to settle here in Arizona. She worked for Walmart and planned to continue to work for Walmart here. 
  • The award winning film Nomadland came to mind with these neighbors. The one good solace about the place is the Colorado River, which flowed below our parking lot, quiet and serene amidst all the noise and tattoo joints.
  • After leaving Hwy. 95 we headed east on Highway 68. We noticed a rock formation that looked like it was giving the middle finger to the valley below. We thought it ironic considering the camp was the only place where the folk were like characters in the Twilight Zone.
  • Drove up Hwy. 36 and over 3,700 foot grades past Kingman, the speed limit at 75 miles an hour. The highway was full of potholes and in bad repair. We stopped in the original Route 66 town of Seligman for a bathroom break, where there was a funky place, Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Burgers. 
  • Autographed dollar bills at this original Route 66 eatery, Snow Cap Burgers in Seligman
  • I ordered a delicious hotdog from the friendly owner. According to its Facebook page, Juan Delgadillo built the drive-in from scrap lumber. Today it is a world famous stopping off point. Its bathroom out back said air conditioned, meaning you can see through the walls. Entering the restaurant, visitors pass through a room pasted ceiling to floor with autographed dollar bills. 
  • We were relieved to pull into our campsite #81 at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, a little more than 35 minutes’ drive from Sedona. With campgrounds closed or filled nearer Sedona, we were lucky to get the last site. The night sky was beautiful with plenty of sky and views of the Milky Way and constellations. The art town of Jerome’s night lights sparkled to the west across the valley. It was about four blocks’ walk to the bathroom, the longest ever in any of our camping history! This campground seemed a favorite gathering site for reunions of retired folks in big rigs who like watching football on outdoor screens.
  • Ah, Sedona. We love the vistas, and red stones and yellow cottonwoods. My dad’s brother Orland took us out for breakfast at a popular place that makes 101 omelettes, The Coffee Pot Restaurant and Gift Shop. It was Uncle Orland who suggested we visit him in at his timeshare in Sedona that started us on this whole road trip. So glad he was the spark that lit our fire.
  • Cathedral Rock
  • The Coffee Pot earned its name from the red rock formation that looks like an old fashioned percolator. Our food was good and waitress upbeat.
  • Kate and her dad’s brother Orland Burbey. A great man to be with. So much like her late papa.
  • Bill and Coffee Pot A+ waitress
  • The town was packed with tourists. Sedona is known for its vortices, or ‘energy spots,’ that are marked on maps. The areas like Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock and Boynton Canyon often filled up with cars and hikers eager to feel the good vibrations. Individual vortexes are believed to provide certain energy. We felt buzzed hiking on the red stone and looking at the vistas. We get our high from the natural world. 
  • We especially liked Boynton Canyon.  It is sacred to the indigenous people, the Yavapai-Apache Nation. Earlier in the day we passed a quarter-mile of cars parked for the trail head. It sure is loved to pieces here, yet the integrity of the land still stays strong. Best to visit Boynton and Canyon in the later afternoon when the lowering sun—sun sets at 5:30 in October— paints the stones red orange.
  • High energy Boynton Canyon
  • On the hike I leaned into a perfect crevice in the red rock that fit my body. I looked out at the sun setting behind the multicolored red stones and felt revived. Every face of the many hikers we saw passing us reflected joy and awe. There is something to this place.
  • We bought the book Roadside Geology of Arizona. It explained how the red rocks’ joints widen and alcoves form along zones of weakness, “creating bizarre columns, totem poles, and balanced rocks, resulting from continuing erosion.”
  • It was our last night in Sedona. After sunset we stopped in at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church just as evening mass was getting out. Walking around the spacious church interior, I appreciated the paintings and statues, especially the one of the dark Guadalupe.
  • Immaculate Conception Church, Cottonwood
  • Hard to leave Red Rock country, and we drove the following day southwest along Hwy 17 to Hwy 169 to Hwy 69 to Prescott, where lives one of my closest friends, and former newspaper editor, who helped me become the writer I am today. She is Kateri Alexander, named for the indigenous saint, Kateri Tekawitha, an Algonquin-Mowhawk woman born in what is now New York.
  • Kateri took us out for breakfast and on a quick tour of the places she might’ve wanted to live in. Now she’s considering a move to the East Coast to live nearer her daughter and a man she has known since third grade. They reunited after their spouses died and I love seeing her photos with him.
  • Bill, Kate and awesome friend Kateri
  • Due to clogged traffic heading out of Prescott on Hwy 17, we arrived at our campsite at Gilbert Ray Campground  in Tucson at 7:30 that night. We could see silhouettes of saguaro cactus, but did not appreciate the vistas and landscape until the following morning.
  • We were up at 6:30 and able to witness a beautiful pink cloud sunrise reflected in our trailer window. Bill picked an excellent campsite that looks out over the valley.
  • Morning at Gilbert Ray campground near Tucson
  • I christened myself Cactus Kate and we took dozens of photos of the plants which grow arms after they reach the age of 75. A Tuscon tourism guide informs us—and I agree— that saguaros have a special quality that must be felt.
  • I felt at home in this country that I’ve never been in. Watching the sunrise light the cliffs and our favorite peak, Mt. Wasson, we were camped in a bowl of peaks.
  • This is one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve ever been in. Clean bathroom. Smaller rigs. And not expensive either at $20 a night. We camped in Pima County’s Mountain Park, which is adjacent to the east division of Saguaro National Park. 
  • We learned of the Cactus Wren, the largest of its species, which is friendly and perches among the prickly branches of the chola bushes.
  • Downtown Tucson, we enjoyed shopping at the Food Conspiracy Co-op on Fourth Street. Great health food store in a creative neighborhood. We liked the feel of Tucson, its Spanish influence, its art on the freeway infrastructure, it’s many murals, the way traffic moves, the people of many colors. The city easily wears its Spanish influences. There are homeless people asking for handouts and we saw some folks wobbling at street corners. We swam for free at the Catalina High School pool, which will start charging fees in January. Swimming outside in November with air temperatures in the high 80’s was unbelievable, considering I swim on Whidbey in 40-degree air temps and Goss Lake at 54 degrees and cooler in a full thermal wetsuit.
  • I met a woman at the pool who’s been swimming here for 35 years. She came to Tucson from grad school to go hiking and never left. 
  • Following our swim, we ate good Mexican food at El Charro Cafe, the oldest Mexican restaurant in the nation in continuous operation, founded in 1922. I enjoyed a delicious grilled shrimp tamale. We enjoyed toodling through neighborhoods where people have stones in the yards instead of lawn. Loved the casitas.
  • Bill looking for good food at El Charro in Tucson, the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant run by the same family
  • Later that afternoon, we stopped by the Abram’s Public Health Center on Country Club Drive to get a free COVID booster shot. No wait. Great staff.
  • Next day we paid $24 to ride a shuttle up Sabine Canyon to learn about the Sonoran Desert geology; that 2006 brought the largest flood in the area’s history; that the granite in this continuous flowing river canyon is 1.5 billion years old. 1.5 million visitors come to this canyon each year. The mountains wear skirts of debris called bajadas: we learned the word bajada today, meaning a broad slope of alluvial material at the foot of an escarpment or mountain. Bill renamed himself Bajada Bill.
  • We met Uncle Orland at his home north of Tucson in the Saddlebrook community, with its stunning backyard view of the Catalina Mountains, and drove to Carlota’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine with the afternoon light shining on the Catalina range, illuminating its joints and towers.
  • The following morning we woke to a sliver of a moon above Mt. Wasson. We visited Saguaro National Park and enjoyed saguaro vistas and petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people about 1,000 years ago along the Signal Hill Trail. 
  • ancient petroglyphs on Signal Hill Trail at Saguaro National Park
  • Note! Wear closed shoes while hiking here because the gravel along the trail gets in your sandals. We bought souvenirs at the Visitor Center and headed for lunch at La Indita in Tucson on Stone Avenue. Another great family-owned place. We enjoyed delicious fare under a ramada.
  • Saguaros do not grow arms until they are 75 years’ old
  • Our right rear tire made screeching sounds that night. We called around and were recommended to visit Griffith Automotive Repair. Its owner Mark Griffith squeezed us in among his other clients. His mechanic told us the problem was due to the weight of the trailer as we braked going down hill. No charge!  We will install trailer brakes when we return to Whidbey.
  • Next we camp at Usery Park in Mesa, which is the next story.
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