Monthly Archives: April 2014

Saguaro National Park, West

When we first came to Benson, Arizona last year we visited the Saguaro  National Park east of Tucson.  There are two parts to the park and the western part is about 15 miles southwest of Tucson and about an hour and a half drive from Benson.  We visited it last Thursday.

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The landscape at the western part of the park is closer and a bit more intimate than the eastern side.  There were magnificent views but its not a friendly place and we often got the feeling we were visiting an alien planet.

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Having lived most of our lives in New England, Susan and I are a bit surprised about how much we like the area near Tucson.  It has a beauty and spaciousness that has been easy to get used to.

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The cactus are just starting to come into bloom.  We’re leaving soon so we will miss the peak of their blooming, but we won’t miss the heat.

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It’s been in the 80’s and low 90’s for the last several weeks.  Last year we were here until the end of June and it was in the 100’s frequently.  You do get used to it somewhat, but we don’t care if it’s “dry heat”, when it gets above 90 it’s still hot.

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It was sunny and in the mid-80’s while we were at the park and we were glad we brought along a lot of water and apple juice to drink.  There was a small Visitor’s center and a handicap accessible nature trail near the main road.  We took the nature trail and just after reading a plaque about the local reptiles, this fellow, a zebra-tailed lizard appeared in the path.

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The western part of Saguaro National Park is smaller than the eastern part, and the scenery reflects that.  There are similarities between both parts (lots of Saguaro cactus) but enough differences that they are both well worth visiting.

We give the park an A+ for handicap accessibility.  There were plenty of turn-offs in the road where you could stop a see the scenery, the Visitor’s center had motorized doors both for the center and the restrooms, and it had an excellent handicap accessible nature trail.

Susan’s new shelf

Susan and I traded which side of the bed we sleep on several months ago.  The side she started out on had a shelf and drawers next to it (which is why she got it) but it also had a step near the foot of the bed she had to get up and down.  Her balance and strength have decreased a bit and she no longer felt safe having to use the step, particularly at night, so we traded sides.

She had to give up her shelf, however, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to give her a shelf ever since.  I’ve gone through several different designs and even bought the material for one of them but I wasn’t happy with what I’d come up with.  I’m not sure where the idea for this design came from but once it came to me I knew it was the right one.

Susans Shelf

Part of the problem is that the wardrobe on her left (our right) is mostly thin plywood veneer and there are only two places where the wood is structurally strong enough to attach anything and that is at the very back and at the very front.  The design had to work with this and so the shelf is supported on the ends, but not in the middle.  The shelf has a lip around the sides and front so things won’t fall off and I combined the support for one end of the shelf with a handle to make it easier for her to get in and out of bed.  I used the same polyurethane stain and coating that I did for the handle I put above the bed and it fits in with the motorhome’s existing wood work quite well.   We’re happy with the way it turned out and Susan now has a shelf again.

I built a computer

I’ve had the bug for a while after reading an article on Lifehacker.com about building PC’s. The article had build plans for basic, mid-range and high-end computers.  Recently AMD released a new family of processors and Newegg had a combo-deal with them.  I ended up upgrading everything slightly (fastest processor, more memory) but was able to buy all the components for around $350 (which included shipping).

Computer_Parts

I got a metal case with two cooling fans, 350W power supply, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB hard drive, 4-core AMD processor, motherboard, wifi card and a DVD-ROM drive.

Continue reading I built a computer

Cochise’s Stronghold

Cochise’s Stronghold is a National Forest Service campground on the other side of the Dragoon Mountains from Benson.  It is the actual location that Cochise and his warriors used to hide out from the Army during the mid-1800’s.

From Benson we drove first around the northern end of the Dragoon Mountains and then south along the eastern side.  Cochise’s Stronghold is a hidden valley about half-way down the range.  We didn’t know it was a valley until we’d driven several miles up a dirt road and it suddenly opened up in front of us.

The valley is surrounded on three sides by steep, boulder covered hillsides.  It is easy to see why Cochise used this spot since there were thousands of places to hide and to make ambushes from.

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The campground only had about 20 campsites, but they were all paved, with picnic tables, a grill and a fireplace.  Our motor home would never fit however, which is too bad since it was a very pretty location.  Not only was the road to the campground narrow and winding, the longest vehicle that could fit into a campsite could only be about 20 feet long.  When we got there there was only one small trailer in the campground and a small group of picnickers a couple of sites over, so we were pretty much alone there.

We had picked up sandwiches along the way , and so we selected one of the campsites for a picnic.  The campground is at an altitude of about 4600 feet and cooler than Benson by at least 10 degrees.  It also must get more water since there were trees everywhere and we were in the shade.  We had an attentive audience while we ate.

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Several jays settled in the nearby trees and watched us carefully while we ate.  I broke up some pieces of bread for them and tossed them a little ways away.  After a few moments they warily flew down and took them, keeping an eye on us the whole time.

There was a small, paved nature trail near our picnic site.  After our lunch I took Susan in her wheelchair on it.  There were signs along the trail that detailed the history of Cochise and the Chiracahua Apache indians and a little bit of the natural history of the area.

There was a dry streambed next to the campground but it was obvious that this area gets a lot more moisture than Benson does.  There were trees everywhere and up one of the canyons, about half way to the top of the mountains there were some pine trees.  Even though it hadn’t rained for several weeks, we ran across several groups of flowers.

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The campground was very nice.  It was clean and well kept up although we never saw any rangers.  For a campground we’d have to give it an A for accessibility.  The area is spectacularly scenic and well worth the visit.

Our scenic trip to Tucson that wasn’t. To Tucson, that is.

Last Saturday we decided to visit The Fort Lowell Museum in Tucson.  It is only open Friday through Sunday and we had wanted to go there for a while.  We’ve been up and down Interstate 10 more times than I can count so before we left I looked at Google Maps to see if there was an alternative route.

I love Google Maps but I have to admit that sometimes the details are misleading.  There was a road (marked State Route 10) that left north of Benson and eventually met up with a another road that would take us more or less straight into Tucson.  It all looked very scenic on the map so off we went.

About 5 miles north of Benson the asphalt road became a gravel road and that should have been our first clue that this trip wasn’t going to work out the way we thought it would. The road went more or less along the San Pedro River but although they call it a river but we’ve actually never seen any water in it.  There must be some water underground however, because it was easy to pick the riverbed out from the road since it always had green trees next to it.  The river presses against the hillsides at places and left some sculptured cliffs.

Cliffs_along_the_San_Pedro_River_North_of_Benson

At the beginning we passed a number of working farms.  They were using irrigation abd there were a lot of fields that were green from border to border.  We passed a dairy farm and a couple small cattle ranches as well.  Eventually the farms petered out and other than the river bed nearby there wasn’t much of anything.  Even so, we passed clusters of houses at irregular intervals.  There are a lot more people living out in the middle of nowhere here than you’d expect.

I’m not sure why we kept going.  The gravel road wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either and we were enjoying the scenery.  We weren’t lost, exactly, since we had the GPS in the car but we had long since left any cell phone coverage behind us so I couldn’t  check Google Maps again.  I knew that the road eventually connected to another highway north of Tucson so even if we couldn’t find the road that would take us to Tucson we’d end up somewhere civilized.  The problem was that we kept going and kept going and kept going and never ran across the road to Tucson.  There were “roads” every once in a while but they were all one-lane dirt tracks.  We did pass one “real” road (a gravel road the same size as ours) but it had the wrong name (I checked Google Maps again after we got home and it turns out that was the road we had been looking for even though the name on the sign didn’t match the name on Google Maps) so we kept going.  Eventually we had gone so far that it was an awful lot closer to the next next town than it was to go back to Benson.

About seventy miles (and about 60 miles of dirt and gravel roads) after we left Benson we finally hit San Manuel.  It was a relief to be able to get back onto asphalt roads again.  We picked up a two-lane highway there and ended finishing our trip by coming into Tucson’s western side.  Tucson is on the southern side of the Rincon Mountains and we had gone completely around the north side of the mountains.

By this time it was late afternoon and Fort Lowell was going to close in an hour.  We were both tired and hungry (we’d brought granola bars with us and water but no lunch) so we ended up stopping at a Chinese restaurant we know and had a mid-afternoon meal and then drove back to Benson.  Our scenic trip ended up being about 140 miles.

I still love Google Maps but I’ll be more careful next time and when we do visit Fort Lowell I’m afraid that Interstate 10, despite being so familiar and boring, is the route we’ll take.

We visited Colossal Cave but all we saw was this cowboy

Colossal Cave State Park is about half way to Tucson from where we are staying in Benson.  We’ve passed the sign pointing in its direction many times on our trips to and from Tucson and finally decided to visit it.

It is tucked up on the southern side of the Rincon Mountains about 8 miles from Interstate 10.  We picked up some sandwiches on the way with the idea that we’d have a picnic.  When we got to the park, the Ranger pointed us to the part of the park that had picnic tables under shade trees on the far western edge of the park and that is where we had lunch.

There were stables nearby and we saw a group of riders and their horses cross the road a little ways from us on their way up a trail.  We are always surprised at times that even though we are in a desert there are areas that get a bit of extra water and the picnic area was one of those.    There were trees with green leaves and shade all around us even though in between the trees instead of grass there were yucca plants and cactus.  There was a children’s playground nearby but we were the only ones in the picnic area.

There was also a bronze statue right next to the parking area.  It was dedicated to Cowboys, the idea in general I guess, since there was no real explanation on the plaque.

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After we finished lunch we went to the actual cave but quickly found our visit was in vain.  There was a ramp next to the handicap parking spot down to the entrance, but it was very steep and can’t imagine how anybody in a wheelchair could navigate it by themselves.  There was a hairpin turn halfway down and if you lost control on the way, you’d be launched down a fifty foot slope into a ravine (and no, despite temptations to the contrary I did not joke with Susan about it).

When we got to the cave entrance there was a steep stairway down to a door, so there wasn’t a chance that Susan would be able to go inside to see anything.  There was a small gift shop but it also had a set of very steep steps to get inside.  So after a real short time I got to huff and puff and push Susan back up the ramp to the car.

We visited Colossal Cave and all we got to see was a bronze cowboy.  It was still a nice picnic and the park has some nice vistas.  I had visited the park’s website before we went and I suspected we’d be limited in where we could go, but if there is a part of the website that spoke directly to handicap access I couldn’t find it.  It would have been nice to know that there was no access at all before we braved the ramp.

I’d have to give the park a D for handicap access.  Other than a couple handicap parking spots and a very steep ramp there was no attempt to provide handicap access anywhere in the park.