Wickenburg: A day in the old west

“Hassayampa is temporarily closed due to heavy rain and flooding. If the rain subsides, the preserve will re-open on Wednesday, Jan. 25th.” ARGGGH, foiled again, what is it with me and the Hassayampa River Preserve? I just can’t seem to get through the gate whenever we have been in the area!

The Hassayampa River Preserve is considered to be an oasis in the desert due to its lush vegetation and flowing water, making a home to a variety of wildlife and approximately 300 different bird species. I was hoping to do a bit of birding and take a short walk. The terrain is vastly different in the preserve, cottonwood trees and lush landscape, thanks to river which creates a thriving watery sanctuary on the edge of the Sonoran Desert. The cottonwood-willow forest is one of the rarest types and most diverse habitats in the Southwest. The name “Hassayampa” comes from a Yavapai Indian word, hayesamo, meaning “following the water as far as it goes.” Apache Indians referred to it as the “upside down river” because it flows underground. The preserve was originally a stagecoach way station in the 1860s.

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The good news is that the recent record rains in the Phoenix area will benefit the desert landscape, the wild flower season should be spectacular but really, rain isn’t why I wanted to winter in the desert! Okay, well enough whining about the rain as it is going to be sunshine again for at least the next 10 days and the Hassayampa will be there to see another day.

While we didn’t get into the preserve again we did have a great time in the nearby town of Wickenburg. This little town is seeping in history and is home to one the of the best western art and history museums in the state – The Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

In addition the amazing collection of Western art, the museum provides an opportunity to step back in time and see how life was in early Wickenburg. We wandered through scenes that tell the history of the region and the desert frontier. The recreations took us on a stroll along a street of old Wickenburg that re-creates life in Arizona circa 1915, complete with a general store and saloon. Turn the corner to visit a turn-of-the-century Victorian home including a parlor, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and laundry.

Despite all the recent alternative facts about the declining state of America and promises to make America great again, I can honestly say given the trials and tribulations our ancestors went through, life is pretty damn easy.

I really end enjoyed the Ride Through History: Saddles that Shaped the West exhibit.Created by master saddlemaker Carson Thomas, the 23 half-scale saddles at the core of this exhibition tell the story of the American West. The detailed saddles are augmented by historic and contemporary American Indian textiles from the collection of Steve Getzwiller, as well as other artifacts and artwork. Having owned numerous saddles in my “horsey” days, it was great fun to see these amazing reporductions in half size. I could imagine sitting in them, feeling the swaying rhythm of the horse while meandering through the hillsides dotted with saguaro cactus.

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The drive back took us through some beautiful country and the highlight was seeing these wild burros near Lake Pleasant. The BLM manages these wild herds and they looked very healthy and content. There were at least 25 in the group we saw and it must have been “clean up” day as many of them were grooming each other. I suspect they appreciate the rain more than me as there is plenty of green scrub for them to munch on!

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Exploring the ghost town of Jerome

I love ghosts towns, there is something spooky and unearthly about them. Where I grew up in rural east Multnomah County Oregon, there was a old house in the woods with some abandon furniture and a piano. It was a great place to explore and get scared so we never went there after dark. I swear sometimes you could hear piano music when the wind blew through the trees. Maybe this is why I love exploring old ghost towns so much?

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The drive to Jerome took us into the edge of the Coconino National Forest. If you like spectacular scenery and narrow windy roads with sheer drops this is the drive for you. Not sure Bentley enjoyed that part of teh drive as much as we did. So glad we were in Ernie as there is no way we could have driven the Roadhouse into Jerome.

Jerome is a ghost town alive and well with a past described as wickedly wild to wildly artistic. During its rough and tumble days, Jerome was given the distinction of “Wickedest Town in the West”. Saloons and brothels lined the streets, providing the miners with entertainment after a hard days work.

 

Founded in 1876, Jerome was the fourth largest town in the Arizona Territory with a rowdy population that reached over 15,000. The mines produced over a billion dollars worth of gold, copper, silver and zinc during a period of over 70 years until the last mine closed in 1953.
When gold and copper deposits dwindled, Jerome AZ became a veritable ghost town with about 50 residents that stayed behind. Story is that in the 60’s and 70’s the “Hippies” came into town and today it is comprised of artists, writers, unique boutique shops, wine bars, quaint dining spots and amazing views across the Verde Valley.

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Jerome’s appearance has not changed much in the last 100 years. Many of the old buildings from the late 1890s still stand and are occupied by proprietors while many structures are fragment relics from its very early days. Because Jerome was built on the side of a hill, gravity and erosion has caused building to slide down the 30 degree slope. Fires were commonplace, ravaging the clapboard town and landslides destroyed whole sections but Jerome was always rebuilt. At the mercy of the ups and downs of copper prices, labor unrest, depressions and wars, this place has quite a checkered past.

We enjoy walking among the buildings of historical significance, tasting some marginal AZ wine and having a great lunch-breakfast at the Miner’s Café. The views are stunning and the Jerome State Historical Park is well worth a visit. The Douglas Mansion, which was the home of one of Jerome’s most influential aka wealthy, mine owners is now a museum dedicated to the the area’s history. Outside there is old mining equipment, vehicles and buggies. Inside, the mansion is open to tour and you will find some great mineral displays, artifacts and much of the original furniture including a piano – yay! The 30 minute historical film was a hoot as it is narrated by a ghost, which was the only one I saw that day!

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Bentley’s four paw perspective

Life on the road is very different for Bentley and I think it truly agrees with him. For many of you that know Bentley, you know him as a sweet but big ole scaredy cat. I call him our reluctant guard dog…he feels obligated to tell me when something is not right with the world but there is no way he feels obligated to do anything about it.

Well, he hasn’t miraculously stopped looking at the word through wary eyes but he certainly is adjusting well to life on the road. Not having a backyard, he grew up as a very indoor dog, going outside with his people to go for walks, to go potty, to go for a car ride, to go to work, to go to his beloved Lexi-Dog but never really spent any measurable time outside just being a dog.

Since we have been on the road, Bentley has been spending more time outside…yes, on his own. He is mostly on a tether by the RV lying in the sun, watching the world go by. He loves watching the birds which are abundant, the occasional cottontail or jackrabbit and the zippy ground squirrels. He is so happy that he gets indignant when asked to come inside. I have tried to explain to him that I can’t just leave him out there when I am off riding my bike and there is no way Mr. Lazy Pants would consider going with me on a 9 mile bike ride. I mean really!! A short hike, a leisurely walk or a serious game of fetch with his favorite Kong ball is worth his consideration.

Being outside in the desert means foot protection and seriously regular flea/tick treatments…these are things we didn’t have to really worry about before. Mr. Bentley is sporting some new hiking boots which he is not really in love with yet, another reason to boycott hiking with his man! This week he is wearing the front boots only and it is comical to see him high stepping down the road. He isn’t quite convinced that the cholla burrs are as bad as the boots and his new technique to shorten his hikes is to fake a poop, spin around to face the other way so he can head back down the trail. Sorry dude, Wally is on to you!!!

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At the end of the day, Bentley can put a sleep on when I do finally lure him in at dark or after the camp fire hour but he is ready the next morning to head right back out to his plush bed in the sun. Oh, the life of a RV dog!

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Musing from our first month on the road

It’s hard to believe we left Portland just over a month ago, in between snow storms which are still going on. There is a lot to be said about the freedom of retirement and life on the road but we really feel like we are just starting to settle in to some new routines. Overall, we are both really enjoying our new lifestyle but I will list pros and cons for you to muse over!

Pro’s:

Way less stress (even with the car fiasco)
No need to hurry in the morning or get up early of you don’t want to
Spending more time outside ( Bentley is loving it too, he doesn’t want to be inside)
More time for exercise
More time to spend with friends
More time to spend making new friends
No house upkeep and less space to take care of, inside and out
Better sleep because I have less stress – go figure!
More time for hobbies – I love to cook so we are really eating well despite the tiny kitchen
More time to watch the sunset (yes, you actually see them when the sky is clear)

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Con’s:

Living in a small space with pets = daily housekeeping chores (all of about 15 mins)
Living in a small pace with your spouse = you need a sense of humor and hobbies!
Being careful with water consumption when you are not on a full hookup
Managing grey and black water without a full hook up
Having to think about running the hair dryer, heater and the coffee maker at the same time

I am having a hard time finding more downsides to this lifestyle but I won’t lie to you, it does take some adjustment. I think for us it has been easier because we are boaters and have experienced similar things already on the water. I will say it is much easier RVing than boating as we are on land and have access to necessities like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, doctors, etc. So far the adjustments are worth the trade off.

A big learning for us is that we brought way to much “stuff”. Too many clothes, too many shoes, too many storage containers ( seriously yes, you can have too many!), too many pets that shed, too much cat litter, too many cases of wine. I wonder how many less cases would have prevented a broken toe??? Hmm, that would be about 4 or maybe 5?? Really, the bottom line is that you can buy so much of that “stuff” you thought you couldn’t live with out on the road.

We are also learning that this is a lifestyle, not a vacation and moving too often is stressful for us and the pets. Two weeks in one area feels great at this point but realistically that probably won’t happen all the time. We are also trying different experiences where we stay in the RV. Right now we are in the Maricopa County Usery Pass Regional Park, surrounded by the Sonoran Desert with lots of space around us, great hiking/biking trails and the most incredible sunset views. The next 4 weeks we will try two more Maricopa County Regional Parks in the Phoenix area. Next month we are going to try a 55+ RV resort community with some friends that will have us on a 38×50 concrete pad (full hookup, yay) with a community swimming pool/rec center, tennis courts, off leash dog park, evening happy hour and a plethora of social activities such as a hiking club, dances, knitting group (not) to name a few.

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We don’t know what we don’t know at this point so I will report back in and let you know what we decide. Right now it is fun to have so many options and places to go.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Phoenix Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain Park takes in 3,648 acres set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. One of the the most popular features of the park is the Wind Cave Trail. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain and inside water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging daisy garden. Thanks to my ban on hiking until February, I don’t have any great photos to share but there are breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation and the hike is a real butt buster!

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Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. I love this bit of history…The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery) who was a man with quite a colorful history. “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities, unorthodox, provided him a kind of unwanted security….. behind bars.

On January 5, 1892, the Globe-Florence stage was held up by two highwaymen and two bars of silver bullion, valued at $2,000, were stolen. The driver identified the highwaymen as King Usery and Henry Blevins. Posses took the field, soon learning that Usery had been riding a black horse stolen from the Webb Ranch on Tonto Creek. At the George Middleton Ranch, the sheriff and his deputies were told that Usery had been seen burying something in swampy ground near the Salt River. One of the bars was quickly recovered. Surrounded at his ranch, Usery surrendered but a search revealed he had hidden two pistols inside his pants legs, suspending them from his belt with rawhide thongs. For this crime, Usery was sentenced to a term of seven years in the Territorial Prison in Yuma. Despite a successful plea for a new trial, the conviction stood. After two years, he was pardoned. Usery wandered from the legal path a second time and was convicted of stealing cattle. He received a light sentence in Gila County and upon his release, he disappeared.

We love the quiet peaceful, spacious sites, the abundant bird life plus great biking and hiking trails. The easy access to Mesa and Scottsdale (where we have friends with hot tubs) is an added bonus. We are situated on a site that not only has great mountain views but the sunsets are spectacular.

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So far we haven’t met any highwaymen while riding on the Blevins Trail but I can occasionally hear the pop, pop, pop of the guns at the nearby shooting range…Arizona folks past and present sure do love their guns!