By Idalia Rewar
Day 1: Left El Cajon with our travel guide “Mark.” To wake us up, he asked each person to turn to those sitting around and get to know each other by saying “Gosh, you’re sexy.” Didn’t you know that you can still be sexy after 75? What’s the matter with you? He went on to give us a background on the history of the California and Arizona deserts. He stated that Arizona had more individual Indian reservations than any other state; that the Sonora desert had more rainfall – thus, more lush; that the sand blows east to west against the Chocolate mountains; that people on the Indian reservations have the highest type 2 diabetes in the U.S. and also more alcoholics; and that San Diego gets 90% of their water from the Colorado River. He went on to give us more facts on the areas. I looked out the window and saw some smoke. I asked him to stop for it might be some smoke signals from the Indians inviting us over for a date shake. Nah, no date shake today. We passed by a few Solana solar panel generating stations, that has over 2,000 acres of solar panels out there in the desert all facing the sun. We journeyed eastward over our local mountains toward Yuma, Arizona where we stopped for lunch at the Golden Corral for their buffet lunch. It was not too bad – we were hungry. The tour guide put on a cd by Mel Tillis “Send Me Down to Tucson.” Nice song, never heard of it. Unbeknownst to me both the Imperial Valley and in Arizona have a canal water system. Yeah, just like in Venice. Ha! We continued east across the Sonoran Desert and passed Casa Grande where the San Francisco Giants go to practice, arriving in Tucson early evening. We unpacked for a 4-night stay at the Desert Diamond Hotel/Casino. They said there were welcoming appetizers in the lobby, so we hustled over to the appetizer table, fake news, a few crackers and cheese – no wine, no liquor, just water. The nerve!! Had some cheese and crackers then outta there. Went on and enjoyed a welcome dinner at the hotel. After dinner I went to try my luck at the machines – no luck, lost all my gambling money. The Indians got my donation today. Boo-hoo, bad, bad machines!
Day 2: Up at 6 a.m., got dressed, went down to the restaurant to try our buffet breakfast. Had scrambled eggs – not so good, and fruit. Better luck tomorrow. Today we travel to the fascinating underground wilderness of Kartchner Caverns State Park. The caverns were discovered in 1974 by Tenent and Tufts, two guys who were exploring the area, but the finding was kept a secret for 14 years, when it was bought by the Arizona State Parks. The caverns are closed late April thru October for bat nesting. Still virtually pristine, this massive limestone cave has 13,000 feet of passages and 2 rooms as long as football fields. The stone formations at the caverns not only grow down from the ceiling and up from the floor, but they also sometimes grow sideways. Colored in shades of brown ranging from light beige to caramel they form a fascinating panorama in the dark caves. Went on to lunch and then visited the largest aviation and space museum in the world – the Pima Air & Space Museum – sitting on 80 acres featuring over 300 historical air crafts – from a Wright Flyer to a 787 Dreamliner. It’s one of the major employers in the area – with 10,000 employees. Walmart is second with 7,000 employees. We then embarked on a narrated “Aircraft Boneyard” tour of over 4,000 aircraft from the U.S. armed forces in varying degrees of storage, being regenerated or recycled. Tonight we had dinner at the Guadalajara Original Grill in downtown Tucson. Had a bucket full of the best margarita I’ve ever had. Then the salsa and chips. The fascinating part was that the salsa for the chips is made in front of you. The cook wheels her table over to your table, puts the ingredients and mashes it up and puts it in a massive bowl. Ay, Chihuahua was it good. After dinner we boarded the bus and passed by the University of Arizona.
Day 3: — If you are late getting into the bus and making others wait – they do have punishment. Our guide taught us this ditty: “Here we are birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness, here we are birds in the wilderness, waiting just for you, you, you.” Which is sung pointing at you as you enter late in the bus. With a chorus of 32 people singing, it puts one to shame. It is best not to look around and just put your head down and ignore those nasty travelers. This morning we visit Boothill Cemetery, the final resting place for many of the Wild West’s legendary characters. It is small so you are able to walk around and read what’s written on the tombs: “He was right, he was wrong, but we strung him up and now he’s gone – 1882, hung by mistake”. That’s not too cool. Another one: “Here lies Lester Moore, 4 slugs from A44, no less, no more”. Poor guy. Then it’s on to Tombstone, an Old West town that prospered as a silver mining town in the 1880s and survived due to tourism. Here Western legends such as Wyatt Earp and “Doc” Holiday became legend after the Gunfight at O.K. Corral, where we were treated to a live reenactment of the event. (I came home and got the movie from Netflix.) It featured Denzel Washington as Wyatt Earp. You figure….. Would you believe Wyatt Earp lived to be 80 years old, and did not die in a shootout, but of a urinary tract infection! He is buried in San Francisco, not at Boothill. In his lifetime, he was a scammer, a colorful character, a drinker, had been in jail at least 3 times, was sheriff on and off for many years, and had an eye for brothels and was 6 feet tall. Seems like an interesting fella. We viewed a historama of Tombstone’s battle days. We strolled thru the streets and visited the Rose Tree Museum, home of the world’s largest rose tree. The rose tree was planted in 1885 from a shoot of “Lady Bankia” a rose from Scotland. There is a viewing platform so you can get an overview of the tree with tiny little white roses. As the rose bush increased in size a trellis was built and at the present time the rose bush with millions of white blossoms which bloom every April, spreads over 8,000 square feet of supports trellis and is growing larger year after year. I took a whiff – it doesn’t smell. The trunk is also huge and meanders around at the bottom of the tree. At Tombstone we had lunch at the Longhorn Restaurant and had pulled beef sandwiches. I guess the beef gets pulled – Yikes! We then went on to the picturesque town of Bisbee, nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of Arizona. Founded in 1880, The Old West mining camp proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world. Browsed the specialty boutiques in the quaint town – with a fine collection of well-preserved turn-of-the-century Victorian structures full of Old West history and copper mining lore. Bisbee is generally 10-20 degrees cooler than Arizona’s urban centers. A place with a thriving creative culture and freedom. It looked like a place where the hippies of the 60’s would feel at home. Kumbaya. I loved it, lots of galleries, lots of art and interesting things to look at. Later we took a guided 1 ½ hour tour of the Queen Mine which produced copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc. The mine was in production for 100 years and closed in 1975. The miners were mostly a melting pot of European immigrants. In the tour we passed miners’ work stations and visited the stope area where the minerals were once extracted. The tour guide gave us the history of the mine and showed how they dynamite the mines. It was interesting, and a little spooky being deep in the mines with just the hard hat light on, but we made it to the open air with no problems. Back on the bus the tour guide put on a video “Geronimo and the Apache Resistance.” Showed how the Apaches were moved from place to place as far as Florida to try and contain them altogether in one place and take over their lands. Geronimo spent a good deal of his life fighting to keep his land, without much success. Back on the bus and on to the hotel. Panic city set in – I lost my phone!! Oh mama mia. All my phones numbers that I do not know, my calendar, and 1500 photos. Call the cops, call the Air Force — I called the tour guide – he searched the bus and found it. I must have dropped it when searching for stuff in my purse. Yahoo, I got it!
Day 4: — The day began with a visit to the 91,000- acre Saguaro National Park with 70,000 acres of wilderness, which protects some of the most important forests of these subtropical giant cacti and contains a wide range of species such as mountain lions, mule deer, coati and javelina and even black bears. The saguaro cactus is slow growing they can reach to be 200 years old and get up to 40-60 feet tall and weighing 2 tons. Wow! The saguaro flower is also Arizona’s state flower. Many kinds of cactus, including Barrel, Cholla and Prickly Pear are quite abundant in the park. We came at an ideal time; a lot of the cacti were blooming. We then toured part of the 98 acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which features a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium where you can learn about the fascinating wildlife that inhabits the region. In the afternoon we visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac, also called the “White Dove of the Desert.” The mission was built with native materials by Franciscan missionaries in 1783-1797 and contains murals and statues from the time of its construction. It is widely considered the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the U.S. Inside, the tour guide gave us its history and we looked in awe admiring the carvings of long ago artisans. Tonight we enjoyed a farewell dinner at the Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse which is located in an area depicting a small western town with saloons, stores and other similar structures from the time of Wyatt Earp. After dinner, we were treated to a stunt show – again the theme being the sheriff and some bad hombres and a shoot out all the while doing stunts. That was fun, the cowboys really hamming it up for the crowd. A little boy in the back row was having a great time watching the cowboys falling and jumping and shooting at each other. Of course, no one got hurt and after the show they posed for photos with the tourists.
Day 5: — Up and at ‘em. Boo-hoo, we have to go home… Boarded the bus at 8 and on the way stopped at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Old Country Store. Had a great salad, but missed the famous blackberry crumble, they can’t bake them fast enough. So we settled for peach crumble with ice cream. Needless to say, I’ve been eating so much I’ve started to look like the baking little dough boy. Back on the bus, the tour guide got the sleepy seniors involved in a couple of trivia games which were fun and also viewed some Johnny Carson funny re-runs. The guide said he had a surprise for us. Turned off the highway to see the Desert View Tower, located along Interstate 8 between El Centro and San Diego. The 71foot tower, built of stones in 1922-28, has a lookout point and along the winding stairs has a sparse and yellowing collection of prints of paintings and memorabilia depicting the Old West. At the very top you get a wonderful view of the desert, mountains, etc. Across the tower is a small house and bathrooms where the caretakers live and there is Boulder Park, a mountain jumble of huge boulders that one can climb on and on the way up there are rock carvings of animals, faces and folk creatures. It was a big surprise since I’ve never heard of it and who would think of doing this in the middle of a desert? Finally, headed home. Great trip, made new acquaintances and have fond memories of the Southwest. Adios amigos!