Sunday, May 24, 2009

Desert to Red Rocks

Leaving Salome (pronounced without accent on the final e by the locals) we went off through the desert, flat with the slightly purple mountains scattered around. In Aguila, one of the huge canals turns this flatness into fields smelling wet and green. It’s a smell that non desert folk think of as normal rural smell, but after a winter in the high desert, it is nice déjà vu, if you can have that in a smell. Aguila is the world center of Cantaloupes.
Soon, our view is back to the sort of hopeless, raggedy rubbish filled house lots that are common out in the desert where there is no town to work at. Dead campgrounds, motels, shops, and gas stations, with one or two brave palm trees, all sort of shriveled by the summer’s heat.

Wickenburg is a much more prosperous place, a big town, and close enough to Phoenix to be civilized by folks with jobs and money. Up the road, in Congress, an Escapees park called North Ranch is home for three days. Escapees is a huge operation that runs a dozen or so parks all over the country, and also acts as a sort of support group for RVers, especially full timers and snowbirds. This park has a number of graveled sites for the travelers, and the rest is a sort of hybrid. You actually buy a lot outright, and some are large enough for a real house, others only just a trailer, or a more permanent park model or a modular home. Most of the lots are pretty spiffed up, a lot of serious desert gardening, cacti and succulents, and desert trees, and some are just paved. Nice place, and friendly people, but again, what would I do all winter if I stayed here ?

We do a little more geocaching, including a huge frog like rock painted up in green. Frogs in the desert ? I don’t get it. Prescott is our next stop, pretty much the gateway to the south side of the Colorado Plateau with its outrageous rock formations and canyons. We take a drive up and over a larger mountain range, not a road to take the RV;s over, and very spectacular as we rise up with the desert floor below us. We gain 1500 feet in altitude, and above this first range of mountains, it is cooler and must rain more, as there is grass, and wide open park like areas This is called Peeples Valley and appears to be entirely owned by one outfit called Maughan Ranches. There are a lot of horses, and some cattle, and lush grass, and miles and miles of expensive white welded metal pipe fencing. Clearly big bucks, and a really lovely valley.

I investigate Maughan, and discover that Rex Maughan, who made his stake money producing and selling aloe vera products, branched out into the resort business, and now is enormously rich, is the owner of Forever Resorts, the company that I will be working for at the North Rim ! His signature is on my pay checks. He supported Mitt Romney as a good Morman should, and was a buddy of James Watts, the not very eco-bambi friendly Secretary of the Interior. Rex sees no reason why folks touring the National Parks shouldn’t have good accommodations and good food, and believes the private sector is best to provide that. He also promoted smowmobiles in Yellowstone in the winter, not popular with us tree huggers, but since I think Yellowstone is mostly a theme park anyway, not a problem. Nice Ironic coincidence anyway.

The next mountain grade, a pretty scary road, takes us up to 6000 feet, and into the Ponderosa pines of the high mountains. We drop into the higher end of Prescott where the houses are perched on steep slopes, and come down into town. Prescott is kind of homey and self consciously western. It was established to be the capital of AZ, just a site chosen as near the bigger mining centers, although it lost that crown to Tucson and then to Phoenix. At the north end of town are piles of soft granite, pinkish enough to look like the classic western red rocks, and our CG is in the middle of these rocks that just might be a giant movie set.

The next day we pack up and take the RVs to Prescott, but not over the big grade, this time we go west, following the RR up a more gradual climb. Once we are parked, we discover that Don’s fridge is not cooling. Oh gloom. We transfer everything to the Airstream and to the small freezer in my truck, and hot wire it around the thermostat to see if it will cool. We are getting grumpy waiting and measuring, so we take off to see Montezuma’s Castle and Arcosanti.

The geology of this area is always surprising, north of Prescott, the top layer is dark volcanic and underneath that in the road cuts you can see the pastels of the sand stones, a first hint of the wild colors to come. We cross over into the Verde River Valley, where there is water and fields and the rocks are suddenly pale limestone, white or a little pinkish, and eroded and corroded wherever water has touched it. It reminds me of the Hill country of TX.

Montezuma’s Castle- is not Montezuma’s of course, but a cliff dwelling built by the Sinagua culture, pretty much contemporary with the other great cliff dwelling folks in the southwest. The first white men to see it, abandoned and crumbling, didn’t know their history or geography very well, but the name has stuck. The rooms are plastered up in a niche on the white, cottage cheesy limestone cliffs above Beaver Creek, which even now, in a drought, still runs by busily. They farmed, and made pots and grew cotton and wove that, and then in the 1400’s, for no one knows what reason, they disappeared. The modern Indians claim them, but there is no real proof. The castle is magnificent; we can only stand below, among the poetic white barked sycamores, and look up. Before 1951, visitors could climb ladders up into the rooms, but the safety of the people and the ruins was at risk. We know so little about these folks, I wonder what they feared enough to build this mud fortress up so high.

Down the road is Montezuma’s Well, a huge sink hole in the limestone with a great spring coming up and flowing out a side hole, over a million gallons a day that flows into Beaver Creek. Along its edges, more dwellings, some secure on the cliffsides of the sink hole, and others out on the bluff over the river.

Next day, we drive over the high road to Jerome. This is one of the few mining towns that has not turned into a ghost town, instead the main road winds through the cliff side town like an Italian mountain village. It had a huge copper mine in the early days, and somehow when the price of copper fell in the 1930’s, it managed to stay alive. The streets are lined with the usual tourist attractions, including many references to the good time girls that were often the only women in these rowdy mining towns. In Prescott, one whole side of the town square is known as Whiskey Row, with attendant pictures and risqué signs. It is indeed history, and I would like to know more of these ladies real lives, but buying the Tshirt doesn’t interest me.


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