Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Family Vacation (July 1989): Southern Arizona

We had tried the desert in April and it was wonderful. How about the middle of summer? We hit a record breaking heat wave. Wow, what a difference!

July 1, 1989 (Saturday):                   (Phoenix, Tucson, Willcox)

I went to bed at 11:30 p.m. and was woken up by Sam crying at 1:45 a.m. I wasn’t able to go back to sleep for 15 minutes and then got up with my alarm at 2:00 a.m. We were on the road by 3:00 a.m. We got gas in Blythe, then headed for Phoenix and were within the city limits by about 7:10 a.m. We believed we were early to visit the Phoenix Zoo, so we traveled to Mesa to see the Mesa Temple. I was surprised to see how large Mesa was – 9 freeway exits. We got out of the car about 8:00 a.m. at the temple and were hit with the heat. It must have been 90 or 95 degrees. We knew then we were in for a long day. Because of the heat, we just stayed a few minutes, took a picture of Rachael and Sam in front of the temple and left.

We got to the Phoenix Zoo about 8:15 after driving through the Arizona State University campus. It is a beautiful campus. The football stadium is now home to the Arizona Cardinals. Near campus are beautiful shops with fun architecture. Arizona State looks like a fun place to go to school.

The entrance to the zoo goes over a large pond with ducks, fish and turtles. I was surprised to see a large turtle swimming through the pond. It turns out the zoo is on the site of the old Arizona fish hatchery and it has very large ponds all through it that were once part of the hatchery. I was extremely impressed with the Arizona section of the zoo. They had jackrabbits and quail in one exhibit that you could almost reach out and touch. Then lizards, toads, snakes and salamanders – it was fun to see the variety in the state. It also had natural exhibits for coyotes, peccaries (which we couldn’t see), pronghorns, bobcat, mountain lions, turkey vulture, red tail hawks, bald eagles, etc. We took a “train” ride (small open sided bus) through the zoo for about a half hour. It was so hot that it did cut down on the enjoyment a bit. We would have never seen the entire zoo if we had walked. The bighorn sheep exhibit is similar to the one at Living Desert, just a fence around a big rock mountain. We didn’t get close enough on the bus to see any bighorns. We did go by a wonderful swampy alligator exhibit, but also didn’t see any alligators. We did see some three or four foot iguanas running in an exhibit and took a quick look through the children’s zoo  which was large and nice, but spread out. Rachael liked the zebras and the zebras liked the zoo. Phoenix out-Africa’d Africa with the heat. The best part there were the raccoons which came towards us as though to beg. If opening up my own North American Zoo (which I have fantasized about on occasion), the Arizona exhibit is one part I would take in its entirety.

We drove another hour to Casa Grande National Monument. The ranger said it was 108 degrees, later to be 115 degrees, but it felt 115 degrees then. Casa Grande was a large Indian fortress with one big three story building (the equivalent of a four story building) covered with a canopy to protect it from further rain damage. The canopy was erected in 1932. The ruins are impressive, very eroded, but not worthy of spending a great deal of time at. The Hohokam Indians built this walled village in the Gila Valley between 1200 and 1450 A.D. Casa Grande was built in the 1300s. It was abandoned about 1450. The village had a seven foot wall that surrounded it. The structure was reinforced in 1891.

We then drove another 70 minutes to Tucson to the Pima Air Museum. There are a number of planes inside a hanger (including a Wright Brothers replica plane and X-15 replica plane). Outside are large planes on a lot. The engines have been removed and are covered, but the size and variety are impressive. My favorite was the B-17 bomber from World War II which was in its own hanger. Sam bought a small airplane and Rachael a kaleidoscope and postcard at the gift shop.

We drove to Saguaro National Monument. We saw part of the film in the visitors center and learned that the cactus arms don’t start growing out until the cactus is 75 years old. There was an 11 year old saguaro cactus in the visitors center that was only about eight inches tall. The Rincon Mountain unit has the oldest cactus, but apparently is less dense than the other part of the monument west of town. We drove an eight mile drive and saw some beautiful country with cactus.

We drove to Collosal Cave about 11miles further south. The cave is privately run, but is apparently leased from the Department of the Interior. CCC workers (Civilian Conservation Corps) layed the tiles and handrails in the cave. The cave has not been completely explored. They have gone in six miles. There are wonderful stories about outlaws who evaded the marshall through the cave and who eventually went to Willcox, our evening stop. The cave has stalactites and stalagmites, but they are covered with dirt and are not the pretty glossy kind like in Timpanogas. It is spectacular although the tour is slow. Judy had to take Andrew out (and nearly got lost in the process) because he was having a fit. The cave was 72 degrees inside, a nice change from the weather outside.

We drove to Willcox and stayed at the Motel Six for $30.05. We ate dinner at McDonalds for $13.50. The kids were beside themselves and exhausted.

July 2, 1989 (Sunday):          (Chiricahua National Monument, Douglas, Bisbee, Sierra Vista, Tombstone, Fort Huachuca)    

We left Willcox about 8:00 a.m. for Fort Bowie State Historical Site, about six miles down a dirt road. The hike was a long 1 ½ miles in so we found an overlook, but still could not see the old fort. It was the main fortress from 1862 into the 1880s in the Apache Indian wars against Cochise and Geronimo.

We drove to Chiricahua National Monument which was originally homesteaded by a cavalry veteran of the Indian wars. He settled at Faraway Ranch at the mouth of the canyon and then lobbied to have it made a national monument in 1924. We stopped to take a tour at Faraway Ranch but Andrew was not cooperating, so we left. The mountain has beautiful rock spires similar to Bryce and covered with lichen. We started to take a hike at Massai Point, the end of the eight mile road to the top of a mountain with a beautiful view, but Sam wasn’t cooperating, so we did not take the nature trail. The heat was making everyone very grumpy. The weather was a little cooler, only about 100 degrees. Massaiwas a warrior who eluded encroaching cavalry and disappeared into thin air at this point.

We drove to Douglas, right on the border of Mexico and briefly into Agua Prieta, Mexico. We were looking for a place to eat, but everything was dirty and uninviting.

We drove to Bisbee, an old copper mine run by the Phelps Dodge Corporation. The road actually follows one of the levels inside the pit and you see the multicolored tiers which are spectacular. The town is built on the mountain and has much the same feel as Jerome, but much larger. We tried to find a place to eat, the Chinese food restaurant we went into had prices that were too high for us, so we packed it in and left for Sierra Vista where we ate at Taco Bell. We were going to go to church with my sister Merilee and her family (Glorn is in the military and stationed at Fort Huachuca), but we were smelly and the kids were a wreck, so rather than catch Sacrament Meeting, we went to Tombstone. We walked up both sides of the main ghost town street, but did not pay to go in the O.K. Corral or Crystal Palace, etc. It is very commercialized much like Sedona, but on a more rustic scale. We did have frozen yogurt.

We met Merilee and Glorn at the church in Sierra Vista as it let out and went with them to Fort Huachuca, which is right next to Sierra Vista. We stayed up until midnight playing Boggle and watching the Terminator.

July 3, 1989 (Monday):         (Mount Huachuca, Nogales)

Andrew had a rough night and was pooped. The kids woke up at 5:30 or 5:45. Glorn and I drove up Garden Canyon  (?) and hiked up in the mountains (I believe up to the side of Mount Huachuca), leaving around 8:00 a.m. The trail followed a dry creek bed up the middle between two mountains. We probably hiked 2 to 2 ½ miles up the mountain, then left the trail and hiked directly up the side of one mountain. Glorn and I caught two spiny type lizards about five inches long on the way back and then heard a buzzing noise which at first I thought was a cricket or cicada. Then on the trail in the rocks I saw a small black rattlesnake slithering into a hole in the rocks. We tried to stop it with sticks but the sticks broke. We finally had to spend a half hour digging out the rocks to move the rock the snake was under. Glorn got the rock moved and the rattlesnake was underneath. It was about 1 ½ feet long with a red tail. Glorn pinned its head which I then smashed with a rock. We got its head off and started down the trail with it. Unfortunately we encountered a pair of hikers coming up the trail. The woman saw the snake, asked to look at it and then started to swear a blue streak at us. We were so stunned we let her jump all over us and she took the snake with her. The lizards got loose in the car and when we got back to Fort Huachuca, Taylor, Rachael and Sam and I went out to the car to catch them.

In the afternoon, we got a babysitter for Andrew and Ben and drove to Nogales  and Mexico. The area into Nogales is much greener than the surrounding country. We were impressed with the cleanliness of both the U.S. and Mexico side, much so more than San Ysidro and Tijuana. We parked on the U.S. side a couple of blocks from the border and walked across, going in a few blocks and up and down another three or four blocks. Merilee bought a dress, Rachael a female puppet ($3.00), we got some Popsicles and soda pop and shopped. Many items were similar to Tijuana, but many were different, including lots of ironwood sculptures.         

We stayed the night, again, at Merilee and Glorn’s. We bought two medium pizzas at Little Ceasar’s for dinner and watched “A Fish Called Wanda” with Mel and Glorn that was funny in parts, but with foul language.

We learned the next morning that former President Reagan spent part of the day at the Army hospital at Fort Huachuca after he was thrown from a horse while at the ranch of a friend.

July 4, 1989 (Tuesday):        (Tucson, Ajo)

We got a fairly late start for Tucson (nearly 10:00 a.m.) and went to the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum. The heat was already pretty stifling (we learned that night that Phoenix set an all-time high of 118 degrees and Tucson was around 113 degrees, Bullhead City got up to 120 degrees). The front exhibit was great with large chuckwallas, desert iguanas and collared lizards among large rocks surrounded by a high wall (better even than the Living Desert exhibit in Palm Desert). There was a cave (I’m not sure if any of it was natural, or all man-made). We were impressed with a saber-toothed cat skull and Sam was impressed with a volcano movie showing flowing lava. A man there got a kick out of Sam’s excitement. Other outdoor exhibits included mountain lions, deer, bears, javelina, coati mundis, bobcats, ocelots, margays, jaguarondis, desert tortoises, otters, beaver, birds of prey, an aviary, etc. Particularly impressive were the small cat exhibits where the cats were in enclosures which could be viewed from above and from various points at the side, including through the dens. Snakes, lizards, etc. were inside and was disappointed with the small number exhibited. The Arizona section of the Phoenix Zoo was much better.

We ate lunch under a covered area in Tucson Mountain State Park and went to the parking lot of Old Tucson. Between the heat and the $28.00 it would have taken us to get in, we decided to head for home rather than stay in Tucson. We said goodbye to Merilee and Taylor (Glorn stayed home with Ben). We drove past the Kitt Peak Observatory (the largest solar telescope in the world). We realized we would not be in time to see Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument before it closed which disappointed me. However, as we drove through Ajo, just 10 miles north of the junction to Organ Pipe, Judy consented to staying the night.

Ajo was a copper mining town, until the Phelps Dodge mine closed eight years ago. Large slag heaps around the town are visible for miles. We ate a very good meal in town that evening at Dago Joe’s and learned of the Supreme Court decision cutting back on Roe v. Wade allowing states to limit abortions in state run hospitals. We drove up to the rim of the copper pit and looked inside. It was a round pit, like the pictures I’ve seen of Kennecott, with a small lake in the middle at the bottom. Old tractors are still on the tiered ledges in the pit and the large white factory lies vacant at the edge. Near 8:00, we went to the slag heap above the town Moose Lodge to watch fireworks. What appeared to be nearly the whole town showed up with lawn chairs propped up in the back of pick-up trucks to watch. The fireworks were long and impressive for a small town. Many honked their car horns at particularly spectacular fireworks. Andrew was frightened by them and Sam needed to be reassured a little bit.

July 5, 1989 (Wednesday):               (Ajo, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Quartzite)

Shortly before 8:00 we drove south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The visitor center lies about 28 miles inside the monument. Andrew was asleep, so we kept the car running while I went into the visitors center and got a map, then we drove the 21 mile long Ajo Mountain loop, a dirt road. The ranger said it would take two hours, but I really pushed it and did it in 40 minutes, over very bumpy and rocky roads. I think some of the scenery was the prettiest we’ve seen in Arizona, particularly right up against the mountain, with the saguaro cactus and canyons all arrayed. 

On the way out of the monument we ran over a snake crossing the road. We drove up through Gila Bend, up to I-10 and over to Quartzite where we got gas and ate at McDonalds. Judy drove the remainder of the way to Redlands.

The heat really took a lot of the enjoyment out of the trip as well as Andrew’s temperament which was very demanding. I’m sure the heat contributed to the kids hard times. But we still had fun and it was worth while going.


  1. There are just some trips that don't work with little kids. Heat + Distance is a fatal combination. I have vivid memories of the heat, and less vivid memories of the venues, although I do remember that rattlesnake story.

  2. That must have been one crazy roadtrip with all of you in the car.