Tex-Mex is the product of both Spanish and Mexican recipes coming together with American foods.

When you’re in the Kemah/Seabrook area south of Houston and have a craving for excellent Tex-Mex food and great margaritas, try La Brisa. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tex-Mex is the name given to food that is heavily influenced by Mexico and the cooking of Mexican-Americans, and blends available foods in the United States with traditional Mexican food. Tex-Mex has its roots in Texas—hence, the name.

The phrase Tex-Mex first appeared in print in 1945, but food historians will relate that this cuisine is hundreds of years old, and that the term first entered the English language in 1875 when the Texas-Mexican Railway was nicknamed Tex-Mex. The term refers to the railroad and describes Mexicans that were born in Texas.

Others claim it got its name by the Tejanos, Texans of Mexican descent. It has also been claimed that Tex-Mex is a combination of Mexican peasant food and Texas farm and cowboy cooking.

In the twentieth century, cheese was added because it was readily available and inexpensive in the United States.

Some credit noted food authority Diane Kennedy for drawing the line between authentic Mexican food and Tex-Mex. At any rate, Tex-Mex can be considered America’s oldest original food!


Tex-Mex food dishes commonly use the ingredients of garlic, sour cream, cilantro, beans, avocado, cheese, and chorizo, a spicy Mexican sausage that originated from Spain.

Chiles are also important in Tex-Mex food dishes. Ranging from sweet and mild to mouth-on-fire hot, they are added to a variety of dishes. Chiles that are used in Tex-Mex food include ancho, jalapeno, and the hottest of them all, the habanero pepper.


In Texas you're never far from Tex-Mex food. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tex-Mex foods include chili con carne, crispy chalupas, chili con queso, and fajitas. (Chili was unheard of in Mexico until Tex-Mex came along.)

Serving tortilla chips and salsa was not traditional in Mexican restaurants—it’s actually a Tex-Mex custom.

And of course there’s refried beans, a mistranslation of the Mexican “frijoles refritos”, which means well-fried beans. I always wondered why they needed to be refried.

The food is contemporary with many recipes simple and easy to prepare. Other dishes such as casseroles, black bean soup, and bunuelos (fried bread eaten with sugar and cinnamon that’s sprinkled on top) require more detail.

Tex-Mex food contains large amounts of beef, chicken, pork, spices, and beans. Texas-style chili, crispy chalupas, and fajitas are all Tex-Mex food originals. A serving of tortillas with hot sauce or salsa is another Texas invention. Other tasty creations include seven-layer dip, and tamale pie.

One dish that shouts Texas, is chili. It is a combination of meat and spices, with no beans added. Sauce is the main ingredient of the chili.

Chili started with the Chili Queens of San Antonio. They made the chili to sell at stands for cowboys who came to the town.

On your next RVing trip to Texas, try the unique foods of the region. You will be able to taste Mexican classics with a Texas twist.

Worth Pondering…
Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.

—last words of Kit Carson (1809-1868)

Read More

Lost Dutchman State Park, a Scenic Gem

Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona at the base of the Superstition Mountains. The park is named for the “Lost Dutchman,” Jacob Waltz, a German prospector who supposedly knew the location of a fabulously rich gold mine in the mountains.

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Mystery and Legend

The Superstition Mountains have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. The area is dotted with ancient cliff dwellings and caves, many showing signs of former habitation by a number of different Native American groups, up until the 1800s.

Even the name is inspired by Pima Indian legends. During the 1840s, the Peralta family of northern Mexico supposedly developed a rich gold mine in the Superstitions. According to legend, an Apache ambush ended the family’s last expedition, and the gold remained in the area. In the 1870s, Jacob Waltz (“the Dutchman”) was said to have located the mine through the aid of the Peralta descendant. Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked in the mine and allegedly hid one or more caches of gold in the Superstitions. After Waltz’s death in 1891, several people attempted to seek out the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, all without success.

Later searchers have sometimes met with foul play or even death, contributing to the superstition and legend of these mountains. The legend of the “lost mine” has been fueled by a number of people who were supposed to have known the mine’s location or even worked it. Maps have surfaced over the years, only to become lost or misplaced.


The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders.

Five trails, from easy to strenuous, lead through the Sonoran Desert. You can hike to the top of the mountains, to the Flatiron, at 4,861 feet, but the trail is not maintained near the end.

Use caution when hiking. Those planning to use the longer trails should carry a topographic

Lost Dutchman State Park could be a goldmine for Arizona. It has beautiful trails and is just minutes away from Apache Junction, Canyon Lake, and Goldfield Ghost Town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

map. Each person should carry at least one gallon of drinking water per day. Remember summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

Treasure Loop Trail: 2.4 miles round trip, rated moderate, elevation change of 500 feet, trail terminates at either picnic area.

Prospector’s View Trail: 0.7 miles, rated moderate, connects Siphon Draw Trail with Treasure Loop Trail also connects with Jacob’s Crosscut Trail.

Jacob’s Crosscut Trail: 0.8 miles along the base of the mountain, rated easy, connects Treasure Loop Trail with Prospector’s View Trail, and continues 4.5 miles past the park area along the base of the Superstitions.

Siphon Draw Trail: 3.2 miles round trip, very scenic hike, trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron, although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers in good shape attempt to hike to the top, as the climb is steep and difficult to follow. Allow at least five hours to the Flatiron and back.

Discovery Trail: Connects campground and day use areas, features information signs, a wildlife pond, bird feeder, and viewing bench.


The Superstitions have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park has practically become synonymous with wildflower watching. Prime times are March and April.

Mexican goldpoppies, golden bursts of brittlebushes, mustard evening primroses, lupines, and countless other brightly colored spring petals pave the picture-perfect slopes of the Superstition Mountains.

The especially scenic wildflower vistas along the Jacob’s Crosscut, Siphon Draw, mango-colored fiddleneck, and Discovery trails are worth their weight in blooming bullion and may well be the gold that’s in them thar hills?

Because Mother Nature has a mind of her own, Arizona’s wildflower season varies from year to year.


Common birds are Costa’s hummingbird, gilded flicker, Gila and ladder-backed woodpeckers, cactus and rock wrens, phainopepla, verdin, black-tailed gnatcatcher, Gambel’s quail, house finch, long-billed thrasher, and Harris and red-tailed hawks.

Campground Construction Update

Sites 16-32 and 41-58 (which were closed for construction) are open again for tents or RVs at $15 per night on a first come-first served basis; these sites have water hookups only.

Location: 5 miles north of Apache Junction, off of AZ 88 (Apache Trail)

Park Entrance Fees: $7.00/vehicle

Information: (480) 982-4485

Worth Pondering…
The Amen of nature is always a flower.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

Read More

You’ll find Gold in the Superstitions

Who says there’s no gold in them thar hills?

Lost Dutchman State Park, 2,000 feet in elevation, sits at the base of the Superstition Mountains. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park could be a goldmine for Arizona. It has beautiful trails and is just minutes away from Apache Junction, Canyon Lake, and Goldfield Ghost Town.

Delays in a campground construction project at Lost Dutchman State Park are costing the state of Arizona as much as $380 a day in lost revenue. But these short-term losses are expected to turn into long-term profits when electricity and water become available at campsites, reports the Arizona Republic.

Higher camping fees are expected to make the park financially self-sustaining, removing it from any potential park closure list.

According to the report, campsites and new bathrooms and showers are expected to be finished this spring.

Although attendance is down as the park struggles with the false perception that facilities were closed a year ago, revenues are rising because of increases in admission and camping charges.

Lost Dutchman was one of 13 parks scheduled to close last year, even though it lost only $9,545 during the 2008-09 fiscal year and has an estimated $4.1 million impact on Apache Junction’s economy.

A pair of House Finch keep watch over their Sonoran home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman has collected $82,211 in revenues during the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with $70,648 in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Visitation is slightly down, 22,237 this year compared with 23,772 the previous year.

A motorcycle ride and donations from benefactors raised $24,000 to keep the park open during the summer for hiking. Similar community efforts around the state raised more than $500,000 to keep other parks from closing.

After the park’s continued operation was ensured, focus shifted toward the $415,000 campground improvement project to boost the park’s revenues.

For a variety of reasons, the project was set back—bids didn’t go out until October, and construction didn’t start until November. Now, 38 out of the 72 camping sites remain closed as construction progresses.

The project is funded by federal grants and Heritage Fund money that was set aside before the Legislature diverted profits from Lottery ticket sales into the general fund.

Hug a Saguaro

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum with the Superstitutions in the distance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Lost Dutchman State Park will soon have an opportunity to hug a saguaro. The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is launching an “Adopt a Cactus” http://www.friendsoflostdutchman.org/ fundraiser. One hundred saguaros have been photographed and their locations tracked with global positioning system coordinates.

Details are still being worked out and the sponsorships should be available in late March or April.

The saguaros are on the Treasure Loop, near the Cholla picnic area.

The sponsorships probably would cost from $75 to $100 per saguaro, with older saguaros costing more because they are more intricate.

Worth Pondering…
Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Read More

Homolovi, AZ: What’s in a Name?

Arizona could soon rename and reopen an existing state park.  It’s a protected area that already has a state park designation but operating under a different name.

Homolovi II is the largest of the sites at the park. It appears that each family unit occupied four to five rooms. Each room is relatively small, probably due to the scarcity of large logs. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks

The Hopi Tribe recently entered into a one-year agreement with Arizona State Parks, contributing $175,000 for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Arizona Parks Board reported that during initial negotiations in November, the Hopi Tribe requested the word “Ruins” be taken out of the park’s name.

To the Hopi, the word “Ruin” in the park name refers to ‘something dead.’ They would prefer “Ruin” be replaced with another word or removed.

The State Parks Board is open to any suggestions the public may have to offer about this name change and will discuss the matter at the March 17, 2011 public Board meeting in Winslow City Council Chambers.

Those with suggestions and comments on the name change may also send a message to the “Contact Us” tab at azstateparks.gov or write a letter to Arizona State Parks Public Information Office, 1300 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007. All comments must be received by March 1, 2011.

Ancestral Hopi Villages

In the high grassland of 14th century northern Arizona, an ancient people found a home along the Little Colorado River. These people, the Hisat’sinom (known to archaeologists as the Anasazi), paused in their migrations to till the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join people already living on the mesas, people who are today known as the Hopi.

Hopi dancers perform for the public during Suvoyuki Days. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks

The Hopi people of today still consider Homolovi, as well as other precolumbian sites in the southwest, to be part of their homeland. They continue to make pilgrimages to these sites, renewing the ties of the people with the land. The Hopi tell us that the broken pottery and stones are now part of the land and are the trail the Bahana will follow when he returns. Therefore, these are mute reminders that the Hopi continue to follow the true Hopi way and the instructions of Masau’u.

The years have brought many changes to Homolovi. The migrations ended when the people settled at the center of the world, the Hopi Mesas north of Homolovi. However, as new people appeared, such as the Diné (Navajo) and later the Europeans, the Hopi watched as their homeland was occupied by the new people.

In an effort to protect some of these sites, the Hopi people supported the idea of Homolovi Ruins State Park. This idea resulted in the establishment of the park in 1986 and the opening of the park in 1993.

Homolovi Ruins State Park now serves as a center of research for the late migration period of the Hopi from the 1200s to the late 1300s. While archaeologists study the sites and confer with the Hopi to unravel the history of Homolovi, Arizona State Parks provides the opportunity for visitors to visit the sites and use park facilities including a visitor center and museum, various trails, and a campground. Several covered picnic tables are located throughout the park. Pullouts provide the opportunity to observe wildlife in this park of over 4,000 acres at an elevation of 4,900 feet.

The Visitors Center also houses a gift shop that sells Hopi pottery and other handcrafted goods. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks.

“Homolovi” is Hopi for “Place of the Little Hills”—the traditional name for Winslow, Arizona.

Park Re-Opening Celebration

The Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Parks invite the public to attend the Park Re-Opening Celebration on March 18, 2011. Gain insight into the cultural perspectives, lifestyle, language, celebrations, and history of the Hopi Tribe and learn about visitor etiquette on Hopi lands. Planned activities include lectures, pottery firing demonstrations, and traditional Hopi social dances. Take an archeological tour of pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric people, including ancestors of the Hopi people.

Enjoy learning from carvers, painters, jewelers, potters, and basket and textile weavers while hearing Hopi history through storytelling, music, and dancing, and enjoy interpretive exhibits.

This re-opening celebration is a co-operative effort of many organizations — Sumi’nangwa or “All together”.

On March 19, walking tours will be under the direction of and guided by Dr. Chuck Adams and Richard Lange, from the Arizona State Museum.

This event is part of Arizona Archaeology & Heritage Awareness Month.

Location and directions
Homolovi Ruins State Park is located 3 miles northeast of Winslow

Take I-40 to Exit 257, then travel 1.3 miles north on Highway 87

Worth Pondering…
For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

Read More

Birding Hotspot: Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, AZ

The combination of deserts and sky islands combine to make Southeastern Arizona one of the most spectacular regions in North America for bird watching.

Thousands of sandhill cranes winter at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Southeastern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our numerous visits to this region we have visited many excellent birding spots including San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve, and Patagonia Lake State Park.

Our most recent discovery was Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

The Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north, is great for birder watching. The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields. A wide variety of birds winter here alongside permanent residents.

The Sulphur Springs Valley’s crown jewel is the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Located in the southwestern part of the valley, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area lies within a desert grassland habitat. Nearly half of the Wildlife Area falls within a floodplain. Over 600 acres of the area is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat. The surrounding agricultural community of the valley enhances feeding opportunities for wintering birds.

Group of birders at Whitewater Draw. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formerly a cattle ranch, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area was purchased in 1997 and is now managed to enhance wetland habitats and provide waterfowl habitat, and wildlife viewing.

For a detailed map of Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, click here.

Managed by the Arizona Fish & Game Department, Whitewater Draw has a newly developed one-mile boardwalk trail that takes you around cattail marshes, shallow ponds, and eventually to several viewing platforms. Here you can use permanently-mounted telescopes to observe the spectacle of 10,000 to over 20,000 wintering sandhill cranes. Flocks of snow geese and tundra swan share the sky with the cranes.

The winter bird watching here is simply amazing with many species of ducks, grebes, teals, shovelers, pintails, egrets, herons, shorebirds, and terns.

A pair of great-horned owls sits on the rafters of the large open barn that currently serves as a picnic shelter.

There is no visitor center at Whitewater Draw. Visitors are asked to sign in at register boxes located at each parking area. The register sheets include spaces for comments and sightings, so sign in when you arrive and check to see what recent visitors have reported.

A pair of great-horned owls sits on the rafters of the large open barn that currently serves as a picnic shelter. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) offers Whitewater Wetlands walks each Friday morning at 9 a.m. for a nominal fee. Reservations are recommended.

Whitewater Draw is located on Coffman Road, accessible either from Central Highway via Double Adobe Road or directly from Davis Road, 1 mile west of Central Highway near McNeal.

From Bisbee drive east on Highway 80 for 4 miles and continue east on Double Adobe Road; turn north onto Central Highway until you see the blue Wildlife Refuge sign.

Alternately, drive 4 miles south of Tombstone to Davis Road; drive east on Davis Road for about 20 miles until you see the blue Wildlife Refuge sign at Coffman Road and turn right and follow Coffman Road south to the Refuge.

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

Read More

Globally Important Bird Area: San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, AZ

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go.

Lesser goldfinch are a common sight at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David.

The word riparian refers to an area where plants and animals thrive because of an availability of water, either at or near the soil surface. This riparian corridor supports one of the Southwest’s last remaining desert riparian ecosystems.

The San Pedro River enters Arizona from Sonora, Mexico, flows north between the Huachuca and Mule mountain ranges, and joins the Gila River 100 miles downstream near the town of Wickelman. The San Pedro River flows year-round through the conservation area, though sometimes a trickle, a rare occurrence in the Southwest.

The Bureau of Land management (BLM) manages this area, which may be one of birdings best kept secrets. Designated a Globally Important Bird Area in 1996, this 56,000-acre preserve is home to over 100 species of breeding birds and invaluable habitat for over 250 migrant and wintering birds.

Gambel's Quail is also a frequent visitor throughout the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The BLM is a key member of the Upper San Pedro Partnership, a consortium of local, federal, and state agencies and groups working together to meet the water needs of the southern Arizona area and protect the resources of the San Pedro River.

Because of its location between the Huachuca and Mule mountains, the conservation area attracts such varied species as loons and grebes, cormorants and pelicans, larks and swallows, lesser goldfinches and house finches, and, of course, hummingbirds.

A good way to visit is to go to San Pedro House, seven miles east of Sierra Vista off Route 90. Located on the site of an old cattle ranch, the visitor center is in the old ranch house beneath the umbrella of two gigantic cottonwood trees. One of these great patriarchs has lived over 130 years. This tree alone is worth a visit. Here you will find informative exhibits, plenty of birds, a guided walk along the river, and a charming bookstore run by The Friends of the San Pedro River.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside, you can nab a walking stick and explore several miles of trails that lead through sparrow-laden sacaton grasslands, along the cottonwood- and willow-strung riverbank, and beside cattail-lined ponds.

Other San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area access points include St. David Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David Cienega, Fairbank, Charleston, and Hereford.

Worth Pondering…
Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.
—Langston Hughes

Read More

Birding Hotspot: Ramsey Canyon Preserve, AZ

Managed by the Nature Conservancy, 380-acre Ramsey Canyon Preserve, located within the Upper San Pedro River Basin in southeastern Arizona, is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life.

Acorn Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acorn Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known worldwide as a birding hotspot, it is home to more than 400 species of plants and more than 170 species of birds.

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together. The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands” harboring rare species and communities of plants and animals. This combination of factors gives Ramsey Canyon Preserve its tremendous variety of plant and animal life.

A spring-fed stream, northeast orientation, and high canyon walls provide Ramsey Canyon with a moist, cool environment unusual in the Desert Southwest. Water-loving plants such as sycamores, maples, and columbines line the banks of Ramsey Creek, often growing within a few feet of cacti, yucca, and agaves. Communities ranging from semi-desert grassland to pine-fir forest are found within the vicinity of Ramsey Canyon Preserve.

The rare stream-fed sycamore-maple riparian corridor provides a lush contrast to the desert highlands at the base of the mountains.

The featured jewels of this pristine habitat are the 14 species of hummingbirds that congregate here from spring through autumn.

The Mexican Jay is frequently sighted in the canyons south of Sierra Vista. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The diverse wildlife and habitats of Ramsey Canyon may be viewed from the Hamburg Trail. This open-ended route parallels Ramsey Creek through the preserve before climbing 500 feet in a half-mile series of steep switchbacks. These lead to a scenic overlook in the Coronado National Forest one mile from the preserve headquarters. From the overlook, the trail continues upstream and enters the Miller Peak Wilderness Area where it joins other trails.

Planning Your Visit
Best months for birding at the preserve are March through September. Spring weather is unpredictable, though usually cool and dry. Early summer is generally dry and warm. In July and August, brief afternoon rainstorms can be a daily occurrence. Fall days are cool and bright. Occasional snows from late November through late March bring a dramatic change in the scenery. On average, temperatures at the preserve are 10-15 degrees cooler than those in Tucson.

Elevation: 5,525 feet

Directions: Take Highway 92 south from Sierra Vista for six miles and turn right on
Ramsey Canyon Road. The preserve is at the end of Ramsey Canyon Road, four miles west of the highway.

Facilities: Preserve headquarters include visitor parking, a nature center with bookstore and a hummingbird observation area located at the preserve entrance.

Here, visitors may learn about the preserve and its wild residents, the Upper San Pedro River Program, and The Nature Conservancy by viewing interpretive exhibits, shopping in the bookstore, or simply enjoying the beauty of the lower canyon.

Parking: Preserve parking is limited to 23 spaces. These spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no parking along the road below the preserve.
No buses, trailers, or large RV’s (over 18 feet) can be accommodated in the narrow canyon.

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
September-February: Closed Tuesdays/Wednesdays
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s

Fees: $5.00 per person. Conservancy members and Cochise County residents, $3.00 per person. Children under 16, free.

Free admission the first Saturday of every month. During November, December, and January, a paid preserve admission is good for two rather than the usual one week.

Annual passes available.

Group visits require prior arrangements.

Gear: Sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen, binoculars, camera, and plenty of water.

Please note: Pets are prohibited in the preserve.

Additional information: (520) 378-2785

Worth Pondering…
What we see depends mainly on what we look for.
—Sir John Lubbock

Read More

RVing, Birding & Presidents Day: Patagonia, AZ

Many of us will observe Presidents Day today with strong feelings—pro and con—about those who have been in that office. However, since this is NOT a political blog of either the right or the left, I will leave that annalysis to others.

Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping, boating, and birding site. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this Presidents Day let’s get out-of-doors, enjoy nature, and celebrate what’s great about America—our freedom to RV across the country, camp in our choice of national, state, county, and local parks and private campgrounds, and to freely take part in leisure time activities and hobbies such as hiking, birding, and photography,

Between the majestic Santa Rita and beautiful red Patagonia mountains is the rustically charming town of Patagonia. Set among rich foothills and valley grasslands, towering cottonwoods, and the Sonita and Harshaw creeks, Patagonia has been called the “Jewel of the Sonoita Valley” due to its natural beauty and vitality.

Since early days, Patagonia’s oak grasslands, at over 4,000 feet have provided excellent climate and terrain for cattle ranching, and the Patagonia Mountains, filled with rich ore bodies, have attracted miners.

At first glance Patagonia is a town that you pass through on the way to somewhere else. However, a second glance will reveal some surprises about this historical former Spanish land grant.

There is a growing community of artists and crafts people that have decided that this is a very desirable area to live and work.

For nature lovers, this area is in itself a delight

The vermillion flycatcher is one of 260 species of birds that can be seen at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, and water activities are popular outdoor activities.

And Patagonia is an internationally renowned “birdwatching” destination with visitors from around the world stopping here to see over 250 species of rare and exotic birds that migrate from Mexico to this southeastern tip of Arizona.

Patagonia Lake State Park
Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping and birding site located 12 miles south of town. The park’s campground offers 72 developed sites, 34 sites with hookups, and 12 boat access sites. Other park facilities include a beach, picnic area with Ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, marina and camp supply store, restrooms, showers, and a dump station.

Hikers can stroll along the beautiful creek trail and see a variety of birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, and elegant trogon.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is 850 acres of cottonwood and willow forests with trees as old as 130 years and as tall as 100 feet. Well-marked trails take visitors along two miles of the perennial Sonoita Creek and into undeveloped flood plains. More than 260 species of birds call the preserve home, including the gray hawk, green kingfisher, vermillion flycatcher, and violet-crowned hummingbird.

In Patagonia, drive north on 4th Avenue; turn left at the “T” onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Preserve closed Mondays and Tuesdays year-round.

Paton’s Hummingbirds

A visit to Paton’s Humingbirds doesn’t disappoint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your way to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, stop for a visit to Wally and Marion Patons’ home; it’s on the edge of town on your left. It’s OK, they know you’re coming.

They have installed bird feeders around their rear yard and have hummingbird feeders from the eaves of the roof. The Patons are famous for their birds and people come from all around the world to visit. The place is a magnet for hummingbirds. Their “Hummingbirders Welcome” sign on the front gate is emphasized by the gazebo tent and lawn chairs for their guests (you, not the birds) so that you can watch them in complete comfort.

Happy RVing

Worth Pondering…
I only went for a walk, and finally concluded to stay till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.
—John Muir

Read More

Land of the Standing-up Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument, AZ, Part 2

In Bonita Canyon, just beyond the entrance to Chiricahua National Monument, you’ll pass the Faraway Ranch, established in 1888 by Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson. The story of this family’s immigration is inspiring. They were the ones who promoted the idea of creating a national park here.

With more than 18 miles of maintained trails winding through the park, hikers can find a trail to suit just about anyone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though they loved their home, the ranch really couldn’t support the family, and Neil made a living working for the Chiricahua Forest Reserve. By the 1920s, daughters Hildegarde and Lillian took over the ranch and began taking in guests looking for a wilderness experience.

The guest ranch was called the Faraway Ranch because it was so far away from anywhere. Tours of the ranch house and out buildings are still offered daily.

Further along the road is the visitor center where you can view an eight-minute video on the national monument. A schedule for guided walks and tours is posted. The gift shop contains a good selection of books and brochures to help both the casual and the specific explorer get the most from their visit.

A year-round campground operates on a no-reservation basis, having tables, grills, restrooms, and water. It will accommodate tents and trailers up to 26 feet long. The campground is set in the shade and in a beautiful location.

Continuing on Bonita Canyon Drive brings the visitor to the crest of the mountain, 6,900-foot-high Massai Point, named for the Apache Indian who stole Colonel Stafford’s horse and left his footprint on the trail. You can stretch your legs here and follow the trail to the top to see the desert valleys, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Cochise Head, just as the first white man did while tracking Bigfoot Massai.

With 12,000 acres of shapely hoodoos and weird rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument boasts fantastic hikes, scenic lookouts, and the historic Faraway Ranch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its 360-degree views, you can visit the stone exhibit house, loaded with artifacts, a relief map, and geologic information.

Be sure to walk the short Massai Point Nature Trail, a loop that features a bird’s-eye view of the Chiricahuas’ distinctive rock formations, placards describing the wildlife and topography, and a lookout platform with a viewing scope.

With more than 18 miles of maintained trails winding through the park, hikers can find a trail to suit just about anyone.

On a recent visit we hiked the easy 3.3-mile Echo Canyon Loop Trail—which winds down into a fantasyland of intriguing rock formations and cool, moist forests. If you’d like a longer hike, try the Heart of the Rocks Trail—it leads past a number of enormous balancing rocks such as Pinnacle Balanced Rock and Duck on a Rock.

As you explore the Chiricahuas, listen to the sounds around you. To leave their mountain home meant the Apaches had to leave their mountain spirits behind—and it’s said that the wind makes strange sounds as it whistles around the rock spires. If you weren’t a western fan before your visit to the Chiricahuas, you certainly will be afterwards—the history and tragedy of this western frontier takes hold of your heart and your imagination.


Did You Know?
The bush with the pretty red bark is manzanita, which is Spanish for little apple. Their small berries are an excellent food source for black bears, coati-mundi, and many birds at Chiricahua National Monument.

Worth Pondering…
Once in a lifetime,
if one is lucky,
one so emerges with sunshine
and air
and running water
that whole eons might pass
in a single afternoon
without notice.
—Loren Eisley

Read More

Land of the Standing-up Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument, AZ

Filled with extraordinary rock formations, the Chiricahua National Monument in Southeastern Arizona is a wonder to behold.

The standing stones: The Chiricahua terrain is marked by striking rock formations © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The word “Chiricahua” may be derived from the Opata Indian word for turkey—wild turkeys are common in the area.

Chiricahua Mountains is designated by the American Bird Conservancy as a Globally Important Bird Area.

With 12,000 acres of shapely hoodoos and weird rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument boasts fantastic hikes, scenic lookouts, and the historic Faraway Ranch. The visitor center is loaded with information on the wildlife, birds, geology, and history of the area.

A favorite Chiricahua experience is driving to the top of the winding, eight-mile-long main road, Bonita Canyon Drive, which is flanked with overgrown trees and beautiful scenery.

Note: It can be very windy and chilly, so dress in layers.

Twenty seven million years ago a massive volcanic eruption shook this land. One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption eventually laid down 2,000 feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mixture fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff.

The Chiricahuas are a Wonderland of Rocks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind, water, ice, and time sculpted the solid mass into huge towers and further shaped them by erosion into the spires and the unusual rock formations we admire today.

Named “Land of the Standing-up Rocks” by the Apaches, this ragged landscape of tall Rhyolite pinnacles and enormous balancing rocks had been populated by nomadic tribes for centuries—but it wasn’t until battles between the U.S. Army and the Apache Nation in the mid-1800s that most Americans were even aware of this unusual country.

Those battles—which pitted soldiers against warriors led by the legendary chief, Cochise, and, later, Geronimo—have been replayed in countless novels and movies for more than 100 years, usually from the view point of the victor.

Sometimes lost is the fact that the Chiricahua Apaches initially lived in peace with the new-comers, even allowing the famous Butterfield Overland Stage route to pass through their mountains and obtain water, a scarce and precious resource.

It wasn’t until 1861 that Cochise and his tribe—blamed for atrocities that were actually committed by another tribe from the north—began the fight that brought the fledgling Arizona territory to a near standstill.

With 12,000 acres of shapely hoodoos and weird rock formations, Chiricahua National Monument boasts fantastic hikes, scenic lookouts, and the historic Faraway Ranch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stagecoaches were attacked; towns, ranches, and mines were abandoned after raids. Even the small military outpost of Tucson felt threatened. Retaliation on both sides continued through the years until the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the removal of the Apaches from their beloved Chiricahuas.

Chiricahua National Monument is located 35 miles southeast of Willcox on Highways 186 and 181.

Did You Know?
The Chiricahua Mountains are a crossroads for plants and animals from four ecosystems; the Rocky Mountains to the north, Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains to the south, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
—John Muir

Read More