Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis

Located along Sabino Creek 12 miles from downtown Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a popular destination for exploring the Sonoran Desert.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end.

Sabino Canyon’s history is as diverse as it is fascinating. The Santa Catalina mountain range began its formation over 12 million years ago, 7 million years before the earliest known human walked the face of the earth. In around 5 million B.C., the mountains ceased formation around the Tucson area, setting the stage for future ecological action. Plant life first appeared between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago, and some of the earliest predominant human occupants of Sabino Canyon were the Hohokam people.

Soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible.

Sabino Canyon Tours offers two tram routes that provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along both routes riders are free to get off at any of the stops along the way.

Sabino Canyon tram is a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tram drivers narrate the ride to the top of the trail, re­lating legends and pointing out features of interest: teddy bear cholla, a sandy beach that makes a good picnic spot, a formation atop a mountain that looks like Snoopy lying on his back.

A variety of trails are available along the way for hiking that range from easy to challenging. The main road is mostly flat and paved and crosses Sabino Creek over nine stone bridges.

Winding through the canyon, visitors who follow the road have views of the creek, the riparian vegetation, magnificent Saguaros on the canyon walls, and towering rock formations. Picnic areas are scattered along the road, as are trailheads leading to other sections of the National Forest or paralleling the road.

The only motorized vehicles allowed on the road that leads through the canyon are the Sabino Canyon trams and Park Service vehicles. Ramadas at the entrance give canyon visitors a place to sit and watch the wildlife while waiting for the shuttle.

Bear Canyon tram is a non-narrated 2 mile ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Falls. This tram ride has three stops along the way for hikers to select their choice of trails. Visitors may get off the tram at any of the stops and re-board later. Trams arrive on average every hour.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If riding the shuttle does not stir your sense of adventure, there are miles of hiking trails that wander throughout the area and lead deeper into the Santa Catalina backcountry.

For those who just want a refresher course on its wonders, the nature trail at the visitor center offers wildlife and trailside interpretive information.

Details

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Sabino Canyon is a popular spot for hiking. Trams run on the main, easily navigated Sabino Canyon Trail, with nine stops along the way, and on the Bear Canyon Trail, with three stops. During the 20-minute trip to the end of Sabino Canyon Road, shuttle drivers recount the history of the canyon and point out sights along the way.

Bear Canyon tram rides, which are not narrated, travel two miles to the trailhead of Seven Falls, from which it’s about a four-hour hike to the falls.

Your ticket enables you to get on or off at any of the stops—but not in between them.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Address: 5900 N. Sabino Canyon Rd. Tucson, AZ 85750

Directions: From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson turn north on Sabino Canyon Road 4 miles to the Sabino Canyon

Information/Tour Schedules: (520) 749-2861

Visitors Center: (520) 749-8700

Sabino Canyon Tram Fees: $8; children ages 3-12, $4

Bear  Canyon Tram Fees: $3; children ages 3-12, $1

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

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Trio of National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore America’s national parks in an RV.

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the busiest national parks experience a major drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter.

With snowbirds in mind, the following are my picks for a trio of national parks that are best to visit during winter.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases.

Here the lower Colorado Desert meets the higher Mojave Desert, forming granite monoliths, rugged mountains, and surreal geology that lures hikers, desert rats, and rock climbers from around the world.

The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the Mojave and Colorado deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. The Colorado Desert in the eastern section offers low desert formations and plant life, such as creosote bushes, spidery ocotillo, and jumping cholla cactus; the higher, cooler, and wetter Mojave in the western part is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Cold nights and warm days make for ideal treks into palm-lined oases. Or, bike the dirt roads and watch the climbers scale the rocky heights.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Zion National Park is getting more difficult to navigate with its single road into the canyon and a mandatory shuttle system during the busy months.

Exploring Zion Canyon, center of park activity, during the off-season gives one the flexibility that is impossible seven months of the year. From April through October, private cars are prohibited in the canyon, and visitors must use park shuttles. With 11,000 daily visitors, it’s hard to dispute the need for such restrictions. Still, it’s nice to be on our own—and free of crowds.

The main canyon in Zion was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that draw rock climbers who savor big walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonaran Desert.

The many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground, instead of growing like a massive trunk of the saguaro. It is a stately plant, with columns rising mostly like, well, the pipes of a church organ.

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. A mature organ-pipe cactus may be more than 100 years old. A mature saguaro can live to be more than 150. Foothill palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, triangle-leaf bursage, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape.

The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way dirt road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the park.

Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Strange secrets lie hidden in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum
To further understand and appreciate the Superstition Mountains area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did a lone miner really discover a fortune in lost gold in this rugged region?

And what strange force caused dozens of adventurers seeking the mine to vanish without a trace never to be seen again?

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.

The early inhabitants of the area included the Salado, Hohokam, and Apache Indians. Following came the Spanish conquistadors, the first of which was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who came north from Mexico in 1540 seeking the legendary “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola”.

When the Spaniards searched the mountain for gold, they began to vanish mysteriously. The bodies that were found were mutilated with their heads cut off. Since the terrified survivors refused to return to the mountain, Coronado named the series of peaks, Monte Superstition.

The mountain became a legendary spot to all who followed and was regarded by many as an evil place.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.
We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, jail, and other displays of authentic relics of this era. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American trappers and adventurers migrated to the area; cattlemen and farmers soon followed. Later, the U.S. Cavalry was sent west to establish forts to protect the growing population.

Decades later, miners began searching for what was touted as the richest gold mine in the world. This mine was made famous by Jacob Waltz, known as “the Dutchman”, who took the secret of “his mine” to the grave in 1891.

Treasure hunters continue to scour the mountains searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, but now share the region with campers, hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders in what is now the Superstition Wilderness Area.

To further understand and appreciate the area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum.

Located east of Lost Dutchman State Park, the museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts and history of the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction, and the surrounding area.

We traversed the nature trails that crisscross the area surrounding the museum buildings, all located at the base of the West Wall of the beautiful  Superstition Mountain.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.

No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver
No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museums in their own right, the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn were moved to the site, piece by piece, nail by nail, and reconstructed following the second fire in 2004 (first fire was in 1969) which destroyed the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

Western motion pictures and television were filmed at Apacheland Movie Ranch over a 45 year period. Movies filmed included Charro, which starred Elvis Presley, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Arizona Raiders ,The Haunted, The Gambler II, and Blind Justice. Television series included Have Gun Will Travel and Wanted Dead or Alive.

A movie memorabilia museum showing movies that were filmed at Apacheland, the Elvis Memorial Chapel also serves, as it has since it was first constructed, as a wedding chapel. Contact the museum for reservations (SEE Details below)

Twenty eight days were required for five men, all volunteers, to disassemble and move the 20 Stamp Ore Crusher from Albuquerque to the museum site. This mill was state of the art technology for recovering gold in the 1800s.

Another major building spared in both fires has long been called the Rifleman’s Barn since it was located where the TV series, The Rifleman, was produced. The barn also figured prominently in dozens of western films shot at this location.

It was moved in literally hundreds of pieces to the museum’s grounds and reconstructed almost entirely of its original materials. Its loft serves as storage area while the ground level displays wagons, buggies, stage coaches, and other vehicles representing the Old West.

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.
For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to watch your step as you traverse the trails because there are rattlesnakes (yes, we saw one) and other varmints.

Indoors, the museum has many books, documents, artifacts, and maps regarding the Lost Dutchman and his gold.

Details

Superstition Mountain Museum

Location: On Apache Trail (Highway 88)3½ miles northeast of Apache Junction

Address: 4087 N. Apache Trail (Highway 88), Apache Junction, AZ 85119

Phone: (480) 983-4888

Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Admission: $5.00; seniors 55 and over, $4.00

Website: www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

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San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

One glance, and you know why it’s known as the White Dove of the Desert.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, sometimes called "the Sistine Chapel of the United States" and the "White Dove of the Desert," is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mission San Xavier del Bac, sometimes called “the Sistine Chapel of the United States” and the “White Dove of the Desert,” is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just imagine, in the late 1600s a stranger on horseback has entered a village. Many of the people gather to see this stranger who is dressed in a dark, flowing robe and large brimmed hat. The people of the village greet the stranger and welcome him.

These people are the Tohono O’odham and the village is Wa:k. The stranger is Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Kino.

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission when Father Eusebio Kino first came to the O’odham village of Wa:k (which he transcribed as “Bac”) in 1692.

The mission church of San Xavier del Bac, the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, is a stunning example of Mexican baroque architecture. The Baroque architecture style features playful dramatic elements such as theatrical curtain displays, faux doors, marbling, and overall sense of balance.

After Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain and all its holdings in 1767, Franciscans took over the mission in Wa:k.

The current church dates from the late 1700s, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. Construction began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction on the present structure using money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O’odham to create the present church.

Today that structure is the east wing of the mission, next to the east bell tower.

The walls of the Mission's Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a religious gallery of work painted directly on its walls by missionaries two centuries ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The walls of the Mission’s Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a religious gallery of work painted directly on its walls by missionaries two centuries ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1783, Father Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction of the present church, which is made of clay brick, stone, and lime-based mortar.

Father Juan Bautista Llorens took over after Velderrain’s death in 1790 and oversaw much of the interior decoration. Among the exquisite murals and statuary — many made in Mexico and painstakingly transported to the church — you’ll see several recurring motifs, including the Franciscan cord and seashells, St. James’ symbol of pilgrimage.

The church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

Although the friars ran out of money before they could finish one bell tower and decorate one of the largest rooms in the church, the mission opened for services in 1797. The elaborate Mexican baroque exterior and vividly painted interior had the desired effect—to draw native people into the fold.

Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States. In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872.

The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent.

One glance, and you know why it's known as the White Dove of the Desert
One glance, and you know why it’s known as the White Dove of the Desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and is open to the public, its primary purpose is to minister to the religious needs of its parishioners.

Restoration of the west tower was recently completed. Work on the east tower and the front facade will proceed as funding allows.

Details

San Xavier del Bac

Location: 9 miles south of downtown Tucson just off of I-19; take exit 92 (San Xavier Road) and follow signs to the Mission

Address: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, Tucson, AZ 85746-7409

Hours: Open 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily, with occasional closures for special services; Sunday mass at 7:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 11:30 p.m.

Admission: Free. Donations are appreciated.

Phone: (520) 294-2624

Website: www.sanxaviermission.org

Worth Pondering…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

—Arthur Ashe

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2015 Quartzsite Show Dates Announced

Quartzsite is located in western Arizona, 17 miles east of the Colorado River on I-10.

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February
Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1856, settler Charles Tyson built a fort at the present site of Quartzsite for protection against Indian raids and to protect his water supply. Fort Tyson soon became a stopover on the Ehrenburg-to-Prescott stagecoach route. It had become known as Tyson’s Wells by the time the stage stopped running and the town was abandoned.

Quartzsite was established in 1867 and incorporated in 1989. A rock hunter’s paradise surrounds Quartzsite with agates, limonite cubes, gold, and quartz being just a few. Named Quartzite because quartz was occasionally found in the area, the name evolved to Quartzsite through an error in spelling.

Quartzsite has been a rockhounders’ paradise since the 1960s.

Today, it is also attracts over a million and a half visitors each winter who converge on this sleepy desert town of 1900 people in a wave of RVs during the months of January and February when over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year.

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.
Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In town, the Hi Jolly Monument honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. To the south rise the Kofa Mountains. Historic and scenic areas include the Spanish Wall, Crystal Hill, Tyson Tanks, and Tyson Wells Museum. South in the Kofa Mountains is Palm Canyon, a tight gorge and home of Arizona’s only native palms, reached by a steep but rewarding climb. Farther south is Castle Dome Peak.

Tyson Wells Show History

Tyson Wells began with an open lot where an RV Park was developed; the Sell-A-Rama Show started in 1978.

Soon Tyson Wells became known as a leading Rock & Gem Show in the United States. Later, additional land was acquired for more parking, and two more shows—Rock & Gem Show and Art & Craft Fair—were added.

the Hi Jolly Monument honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert.
the Hi Jolly Monument honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tyson Wells has something for everyone with the three shows in January and February, seasonal vendors, self-storage units, and an RV Park.

The Quartzsite Shows

Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show

The Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show attracts rock, gem, and mineral vendors from around the world and runs for 10 days in early January.

Dates for the Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show are January 2-11, 2015.

Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama

The Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama show occurs in late January and also runs for 10 days. The Sell-A-Rama has over 850 vendor spaces which equals roughly 2.2 miles of aisle frontage. You can find just about anything at this 25-acre show.

Dates for the 37th Annual Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama are January 18 – 25, 2015.

Tyson Wells Art & Craft Fair

The indoor Tyson Wells Art & Craft Fair takes place early February each year. One can find arts, crafts, hobbies supplies, jewelry, and lapidary supplies.

Dates for the Tyson Wells Arts & Crafts Fair are January 30-February 8, 2015

2015 Quartzsite Show Dates

You won’t want to miss the 2015 Quartzsite Shows!

January 1-February 28, 2015: The Desert Gardens Gem, Rocks & Mineral Show

This may sound crazy, but I am going back to Crazy Quartzsite again this year!
This may sound crazy, but I am going back to Crazy Quartzsite again this year! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 2-January 11, 2015: Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show

January 2-January 14, 2015: Prospectors Panorama

January 5-January 25, 2015: The Main Event

January 16-January 18, 2015: Blythe Bluegrass Festival

January 18-January 25, 2015: Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama

January 17-January 25, 2015: Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show

January 21-January 25, 2015: QIA Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show

January 30-February 8, 2015: Tyson Wells Arts & Craft Fair

February 6-February 7, 2015: Quartzsite Quilt Show

February 13- February 15, 2015: Desert Bloom ATV Rally

February 13-February15, 2015: QIA Gold, Treasure & Craft Show

Worth Pondering…

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.

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2015 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show Dates Announced

Every January something happens that is hard to believe, unless you have seen it!

Dates for the 32nd annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show are January 17-25, 2015, from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Dates for the 32nd annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show are January 17-25, 2015, from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than a million and half million visitors, mostly in recreational vehicles, converge on the sleepy little desert town of Quartzsite, located just 20 miles east of the California border on Interstate 10, for the rock, gem, and mineral shows, plus numerous flea markets and the annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show.

Wherever you look, you see RVs of every type, size, and vintage. It’s the Woodstock of the Snowbird set!

“If you’re looking for anything related to RVs, you’ll find it at the RV show in Quartzsite,” says Kenny King, show promoter.

There will be several hundred new and used RVs on display in 2015 and over a dozen service bays will be offering immediate installation, repairs, and service on many of the items that will be exhibited at the show.

This phenomenon started over 30 years ago and is now billed as “The Largest Gathering Of RVers in the World”.

The inaugural Quartzsite RV Show opened January 28, 1984 at the corner of Highway 95 (now Central) and Business 10 (now Main Street) in Quartzsite. With just 60 exhibitors and a small tent, the “new show in town” was still very popular since the majority of the people in Quartzsite were RVers.

Check out the new and used RVs of every type and size at the Quartzsite RV Show.
Check out the new and used RVs of every type and size at the Quartzsite RV Show. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1987 the show, now re-named the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show, moved up the street to the Quartzsite Trailer Park which was situated directly across from the major attraction in town, the Quartzsite Pow Wow (the first Pow Wow was held in 1967).

This new home for the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show lasted 10 years until the show grew to a point that the current 3.5-acre show site could barely hold the number of exhibitors that were now vying for exhibit space at this popular annual event.

In 1997 the “BIG TENT”, as the show had become known, moved across the freeway to its present home, a new 20-acre facility, ½-mile south of I-10 on Highway 95 (now 700 South Central).

With the new Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show grounds, the popular event was able to provide over 15 acres of public FREE parking.

During our last visit to the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show, we reminisced about how Quartzsite has changed over the last 16 years since our first visit and what future years might bring.

When we first went to the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show in ’99, the RV Pavilion was packed with big-ticket items like RV satellites, tow hitches, and companies offering to install a solar array on your vehicle.

Since then, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show has boomed and last year alone it drew more than 150,000 attendees. It draws the snowbirds from around the US and Canada.

While in Quartzsite, check out the Hi Jolly Monument which honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert.
While in Quartzsite, check out the Hi Jolly Monument which honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking ahead to future years, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show will continue to grow and attract a more general crowd. Thanks to items like cheaper flat screen TVs, smart phones, and affordable solar arrays with charge controllers to power all your gizmos, it is easy to have all the comforts of home while you’re camping.

As RVing gets easier and more comfortable—and more boomers retire—even more people will dip their toes into the RV world, and what better place to do it than at Quartzsite?

As Quartzsite continues to grow and evolve, it will still be a wonderful place for RVers of all types to gather and relax with near perfect temperatures during the day and clear starlit skies at night.

Dates for the 32nd annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show are January 17-25, 2015, from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

We’re going back to the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show again this year!

Quartzsite is an experience not to be missed—and we think you’ll like it too!

Worth Pondering… 

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February. As the saying goes, “If you can’t find it in Quartzsite, you won’t find it anywhere.”

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Quartzsite: Woodstock of the Snowbird Set

During our last visit to the annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show in January, we reminisced about how Quartzsite has changed over the last 16 years since our first visit and what future years might bring.

Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year.
Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year. Numerous food choices ensure you’ll never go hungry! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you pass through Quartzsite in the summer, not much happens. You will see flat desert, some roadside businesses, tumbleweeds, and that’s about it.

But come winter, it’s quite different. The flat desert bustles with activity. Something happens that is hard to believe, unless you have seen it! RVs by the tens of thousands camp in somewhat primitive desert conditions.

Many times I’ve tried to describe Quartzsite to people who haven’t been there, but it’s impossible for them to imagine.

As you descend the last pass into the valley, at first glance, it appears you’ve come across an unmapped city in the desert—there are thousands of small buildings spread out everywhere.

But then you realize that these are not buildings—they’re recreational vehicles of every type, size, and vintage. And wherever you look, you see them. It’s the Woodstock of the Snowbird set!

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February
Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just where is this gem of a town? Quartzsite is beyond Hope. Heading west toward Quartzsite, you’ll go beyond Hope, Arizona.

Quartzite swells in population to over a million visitors, most of whom converge on the small town in a wave of RVs during the months of January and February.
So what is the attraction?

Well, it’s relatively warm in Quartzite during winter. And it also offers pretty inexpensive camping. But there’s another more important reason people descend on Quartzsite in droves. And it has more to do with geology than anything else.

Quartzsite has been a rock-hound’s paradise since the 1960s.

Today, over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year. You can find everything from geodes to GPS devices, and frying pans to dream catchers.

If you can’t find it at Quartzsite, it probably doesn’t exist!

Dates for the 32nd annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show are January 17-25, 2015, from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Dates for the 32nd annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show are January 17-25, 2015, from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we first went to the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show in ’99, the RV Pavilion was packed with big-ticket items like RV satellites, tow hitches, and companies offering to install a solar array on your vehicle.

Since then, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show has boomed and last year alone it drew more than 150,000 attendees. It draws snowbirds from around the US and Canada; it’s now the Woodstock of the Snowbird set!

Looking ahead to future years, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show will continue to grow and attract a more general crowd. Thanks to items like cheaper flat screen TVs, smart phones, and affordable solar arrays with charge controllers to power all your gizmos, it is easy to have all the comforts of home while you’re camping.

As RVing gets easier and more comfortable—and more boomers retire—even more people will dip their toes into the RV world, and what better place to do it than at Quartzsite?

Surprises await as you wander from vender to vendor
Surprises await as you wander from vender to vendor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As Quartzsite continues to grow and evolve, it will still be a wonderful place for RVers of all types to gather and relax with near perfect temperatures during the day and clear starlit skies at night.

Quartzsite is just 17 miles east of the Colorado River on I-10. From Phoenix, the trip to Quartzite is about two hours. It is also easily accessible from Los Angeles.

Dates for the 32nd annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show are January 17-25, 2015.

This may sound crazy, but I am going back to Crazy Quartzsite again this year!

The Woodstock of the Snowbird set is an experience not to be missed—and we think you’ll like it too!

Worth Pondering…

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.

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The GRAND Gathering: World’s Largest Gathering of Grands & Great-Grands

The GRAND Gathering, the World’s Largest Gathering of Grand Parents and Great-Grand Parents, is planned for Quartzsite from March 6 to 9.

Quartzsite-tgg-shirt-graphicSo many Grands and Great-Grands are expected, organizers hope to set a new world record.

The Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) and Proud Neighbors of Quartzsite (PNQ) are spearheading plans for special events for this exciting four-day event.

John Hendrix, of QIA, brought forth the idea to help extend the winter season.

“I was just thinking, what we have most in Quartzsite are grandparents, so why not have a celebration for them?”

Hendrix began sharing his idea with others and the event has grown as more people and organizations learn of the plans.

The goal is for every club, organization, and charity to participate in a variety of events in early March while putting Quartzsite “back on the map in a positive light,” said Hendrix.

Many Quartzsite RV Park owners/managers are offering special discounts for The Grand Gathering.

grandgatheringThe event features food, seminars, sales, live entertainment, a 5K and 10k walk/run, and a classic car show.

Town-wide events being planned include a Senior Fair, AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall, Antique Car Show, Concerts by Rex Allen Jr. and Paul Winer; GRAND Bingo events, a GRAND JAMboree, Town-wide Yard Sales, GRAND Breakfasts, 5K/10K Volkssport Walk, PNQ’s famous GRAND Rock Art Auction, fun-filled dances, and more.

The event starts March 6 with a library book sale and an opportunity to visit the AVTT Vietnam Memorial Wall at Desert Garden RV Park in Quartzsite. Rex Allen, Jr., will conduct a concert at the Quartzsite Improvement Association compound.

March 7 features town-wide garage sales and a “Grand Breakfast” at the senior center along with two bingo events. A jamboree with beer garden takes place at the Town Park followed by Paul Winer in concert.

March 8 offers a flurry of activity from a community church service, senior fair at Town Park , another “Grand Breakfast,” a 5K and 10K run/walk, and an Antique Show.

A rock art show is also planned along with dancing at the QIA. Harry Luge will be in concert.

Please Note: Previous postings on Quartzsite 2014 include:

Worth Pondering…

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.

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Top 3 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together.

Whitewater Draw, a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone, attracts many species of birds including snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Whitewater Draw, a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone, attracts many species of birds including snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go. Birding enthusiast are attracted to this unique region with many arriving in recreational vehicles.

The following are our suggestions for where to find the best birding spots. Generally, they are located along streams and rivers or in forested mountain canyons. Some will have nearby RV parks or forestry campgrounds but will require a drive in your toad/tow vehicle.

3. Whitewater Draw

The Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is in the southwestern part of Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north.

The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields.

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.

This is a playa that fills with shallow water during the wet seasons and attracts many types of waterfowl, including migrating snow geese, sandhill cranes, and many kinds of ducks, herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Hunting in the grasslands or soaring overhead are prairie and peregrine falcons and wintering hawks. Spring and fall are good times to spot migratory birds. Surrounding grasslands nurture a wealth of quail, doves, sparrows, and songbirds throughout the year.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life, 15, species of humming birds, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life, 15, species of humming birds, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While hardly luxurious, this area does have some useful amenities including restrooms, RV access and parking, walking trails and interpretive signs, and viewing platforms with binoculars.

In the wet season, the ground can be soft and muddy. Take precautions. If you will be exploring in a vehicle away from the parking area, a 4-wheel drive is recommended.

Whitewater Draw is a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone.

To read more on Whitewater Draw, click here.

2. Ramsey Canyon Preserve

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.

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

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

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.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is about six miles south of Sierra Vista.

To read more on Ramsey Canyon Preserve, click here.

1. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) 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 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages this area. 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.

Designated a Globally Important Birding Area, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, is home to over 250 species of birds including the lesser goldfinch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Designated an Important Birding Area, San Pedro National Conservation Area, is home to over 250 species of birds including the lesser goldfinch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, numerous birds, a guided walk along the river, and a charming bookstore run by The Friends of the San Pedro River.

Adjacent to the San Pedro House are ramadas, interpretative exhibits, picnic tables, and bird feeders for close-up encounters with the tiny travelers.

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, Charleston, Hereford, and Fairbank Historic Townsite where you can peer into a restored schoolhouse, view an 1882 Mercantile building, and walk the trails to the river.

To read more about San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), click here.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspots

Part 1: Top 6 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

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Top 6 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is home to 260 species of birds including the vermilion flycatcher. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is home to 260 species of birds including the vermilion flycatcher. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go. Birding enthusiast are attracted to this unique region with many arriving in recreational vehicles.

The following are our suggestions for where to find the best birding spots. Generally, they are located along streams and rivers or in forested mountain canyons. Some will have nearby RV parks or forestry campgrounds but will require a drive in your toad/tow vehicle.

6. Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

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.

And Patagonia is an internationally renowned bird-watching 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-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 Creek and into undeveloped flood plains. More than 260 species of birds call the preserve home, including the gray hawk, green kingfisher, vermilion 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.

5. Paton’s Hummingbirds

Paton’s Birder Haven is home to numerous species of hummingbirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Paton’s Birder Haven is home to numerous species of hummingbirds. © 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.

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, creating an uncertain future for this birding landmark as the remaining family has opted to liquidate the property.

That’s when American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours stepped in to join forces in an effort to purchase the Paton property and together contributed about a third of the purchase amount and entered into a contract with the Paton family.

The remainder of the purchase price—around $200,000—was the goal of the fund-raising effort, which successfully ended October 15 (2013). Thanks to many hundreds of generous birders, the Paton property will now be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—in keeping the tradition Wally and Marion Paton began.

The associated groups are scheduled to close on the property in early 2014. Once the sale is complete, Tucson Audubon will assume ownership and management responsibilities of the Paton property, and maintain an office there.

Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping and birding site located 12 miles south of town. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping and birding site located 12 miles south of town. © Rex Vogel, all rights

4. 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.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspots

Part 2: Top 3 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

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

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