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.

Susan’s new handle

Susan and I switched which side of the bed we sleep on several months ago because the side she had been on has a step and she was having difficulties getting up and down it. This made it easier for her to get in and out of bed but she also has a teflon tush and when she slides down she no longer has anything to hold on to that would help her get back up. The cabinetry in our motor home (and this really applies to all trailers and motor homes) needs to be as light as possible and so it is made of very thin veneered plywood over an internal framework. I looked for places we could attach something that Susan would be able to grab while in bed and fortunately, just on the inside of the cabinets above our bed there was a very sturdy framework although it was a bit narrow (~1″). We tried looking at both Home Depot and Lowes but we couldn’t find any handle that was anywhere near the dimensions that were needed so I decided to make on.

Susans handle before installation

I took a 24x1x3″ piece of oak and used a handheld jig saw to cut out the handle openings. I then smoothed the edges with a curved router bit and then used a drill press to drill the holes for 3″ brass screws.  I sanded the oak and then put two coatings of a combination stain and polyurethane on it, letting it dry a day and sanding it in-between.  Today, it was all done and ready to be installed.

Susans handlle mounted

 

I pre-drilled the holes for the screws, coated the tips of each screw with Elmer’s glue and then used my drill to mount it.

Susan using her handle

And here is how Susan will be able to use it.

My next project is a shelf for Susan’s bedside where she can put kleenex, her phone, her jewelry and the other stuff she needs.

 

Keeping warm

We’re settling in for the winter in Benson, Arizona.   Another cold front has come out of the northwest and we’re expecting night time temperatures in the 20′s for the next several days.  Heating with electricity is relatively expensive and our rooftop heat pumps (which are our air conditioners in the summer) only work when the outside temperature is above 40.

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Our new propane tank being delivered

The propane tank built into our motor home holds 25 gallons.  When we’re using the propane for just hot water and the stove that amount of propane usually lasts two months or longer.  As soon as we start using it for heating the motor home though, it starts disappearing quickly.  We had our propane tank filled about two weeks ago just as the first cold front came through while we were in New Mexico and even though we’ve had a lot of warm days and nights since then it’s just about empty now.  I had expected to fill it when we got to Benson but we got here on a Sunday and the local propane dealer was closed. Even if  I had gotten it filled however, I wouldn’t want to have to move the motor home just to get the propane tank filled every week or two so I arranged for the rental of a large propane tank for us.

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Our new propane tank in place next to the motor home.

It holds 125 gallons of propane and the company that rented it to us will refill it whenever it gets low and we get a lower price per gallon since we’ll be buying it in quantity.   This is our first winter in Arizona and although the days are okay (sunny and temps usually in the 50′s and 60′s) it can get cold overnight.  I have no idea how long this amount of propane will last, but having this much of a reserve and not having to move the motor home will make dealing with the cold a lot easier.

Once again we couldn’t outrun the snow

An arctic blast of air has been making its way to the southwest and midwest over the last several days.  We were in Hobbs, New Mexico when it caught up to us.  This is mostly my fault because I hadn’t been paying close attention to the weather forecasts, or at least to anything more than the next day’s.  We ended up staying an extra day in Hobbs because the forecast had called for freezing rain and I didn’t want to drive our motor home in that. What we got instead was temperatures in the mid-20′s, 20 MPH winds with gusts to 30 MPH and no precipitation at all.  But since the weather forecast for the next couple of days included snow we left the next day despite the inclement weather and drove through freezing rain and high winds to get to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the temperatures at least were supposed to be better.  Visibility was poor because of clouds and drizzle and for the most part we drove through pretty flat and arid territory.  We did however drive past the Guadalupe Mountains National Forest and what we could see was pretty spectacular, enough so that we’ve earmarked a return trip (when the weather is better, of course) to the area so we can get a better look at them.

It took a lot longer to get to Las Cruces than it usually would have, largely because I had to drive so much of it at 50 MPH or less because of the poor road conditions.  Even though it was only 280 miles distance and we left Hobbs at 8:30 AM, we didn’t get into Las Cruces until 4:30 PM. Just before we called it a night I looked outside and it looked like it was snowing, but the light was poor and I wasn’t absolutely sure.  This morning it was evident it had been.

Snow in Las CrucesThe good thing is that despite the snow, the temperature never got below freezing and that by noon all of the snow had melted.  So, another year and we didn’t escape the snow, but even if I had looked further ahead at the weather forecasts I doubt we’d have been able to miss it no matter where we went.

Window shade fail

We were driving to Hobbs, New Mexico yesterday along the back roads of western Texas when without any warning, the right side of the front window shade suddenly fell down. I pulled over right away and when I took a close look it was apparent the right hand bracket had failed.  It looked like it had been sheared completely off right where it bends.  I got out the duct tape and taped it back approximately where it started so we could get on our way.

Window shade fail 1

When we got to the campground in Hobbs, I took a closer look at it and found that the controls for the shade no longer worked which was because the wires that powered it were pulled out when it fell.  The wires were not well marked (they were all black) but with Susan’s help and a multi-meter I found out which ones controlled the shade.  We passed a Radio Shack a mile or so before we got to the campground so I drove back to it and got some connectors and wire and was able to re-connect the shade and get it working again and then re-taped it into position.

The next morning, as I was working on reports, the shade fell again.  Apparently I hadn’t used enough duct tape.  The wires also got pulled out again but because I had marked them it only took a couple minutes to hook them up again.   I double taped the shade and added a zip tie.   

Window shade fail 2Not the prettiest taping job I’ve ever done, but this is in a very tight area that is hard to get at.  The zip tie at least should make sure it doesn’t come down again.  When we get to Benson I will contact the manufacturer and see about getting a new bracket.

Wind Farm near Sweetwater, Texas

We stayed overnight at an RV park in Tye, Texas which is just west of Abilene.  When we left the next morning, starting about 5 miles down the interstate there were windmills on our left.  Then there were windmills on our right.  And then windmills all around us.  Hundreds and hundreds of them.  

Sweetwater Wind Farm 2

We drove for close to 50 miles and there were always windmills somewhere around us. This is the biggest wind farm we’ve ever seen anywhere.  In some places they were placed in rows that literally went off to the horizon.  

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The approximate center of all this was Sweetwater, Texas, which bills itself as the Wind Energy Capital of the World and as it appears, rightly so.

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We stopped at a rest area that was right next to a number of wind mills.  We’ve been near them before and the amount of noise from them is actually quite small.  The traffic noise actually drowned out any noise these were making.  While other states (we mean you, Massachusetts) have been dithering about wind farms and their local residents have opposed them (NIMBY!), Texas has gone full steam ahead installing them and is currently averaging over 12 gigawatts a year from them.

Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas

One of the reasons we came to Waco was to visit the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum.  Since we are still new to being Texans we felt it would be a good experience to soak up some more of Texas history.

Texas Rangers Museum 6

It is not a large museum.  It has about a half a dozen rooms, most of which were medium sized.  The history of the Texas Rangers was presented in more or less chronological order in a couple of the rooms and the rest of the museum had exhibits about individual Rangers and events.

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We visit the MobileSpiro project at Rice University

MobileSpiro is a project to develop a personal, low-cost spirometer attached to a tablet or a smartphone.  I wrote about it, along with several other similar university projects, about a half a year ago in my blog on Pulmonary Function testing.  On Tuesday I got an email from one of the people working on the MobileSpiro project at Rice University which is in Houston.  He wanted to know if I would be interested in taking a look at their project at some time, critiquing it and giving them some advice.  He didn’t know we were in Texas, let alone only 70 miles away when he emailed.  Since we’re leaving Livingston on Saturday, starting the final leg of our trip to Arizona, I made arrangements for us to come and visit Thursday afternoon.

Rice University turns out to be almost across the street from the Natural History Museum that we visited last year and is about an hour and a half drive from where we are staying in Livingston.  Guarav Patel, the project manager, met us near where we parked and took us to his lab, which is part of the Electrical Engineering department in a building partly funded by (who else) Texas Instruments.  The spirometer consists of a hand-held sensor that is attached via bluetooth to an android tablet.  The tablet has some simple software that controls the hand-held sensor and displays the results on its screen.  They demonstrated it for me and I gave them advice about what data it should be collecting and how it should be displayed.  They are all electrical engineers with no experience in the medical field and the project had been proposed by a faculty adviser a couple years ago.  They were glad that I was able to visit because they have not been able to find anybody with real experience in this area who could advise them.

We talked for a couple hours about the device, their plans for it and some of the suggestions I made about integrating it into physician office and hospital data management systems.  They asked if I would continue to advise them and I agreed as long as I could do it over the internet.  Guarav walked us back to our car and just as we were going by the entrance to the central court, the sun was going down and he took our picture with his cell phone.

Richard and Susan and the sunset at Rice University

Richard and Susan and the sunset at Rice University

Susan and I found a great seafood restaurant about a mile away and had dinner there. Even though it was almost 8 o’clock when we left, there was still a lot of traffic on the interstate which makes me glad I don’t have to commute any more.  For me it was a fun trip where I got to talk shop with people who were interested in the subject matter which is not something I get to do all that often.  It will be interesting to see where they take this project and what help I can give them in the future.