Chapter 3: Friends Together, Having Fun

During our winters in Arizona we have been blessed to make a number of friends from Canada.   Most have been folks from British Columbia and Alberta but we did meet Rob and Kris from Ontario in Tucson a couple years ago.  We were glad to re-connect with Rob and Kris here in Mesa.  I just wish I’d remembered to take a picture!

fullsizeoutput_445eThis is where we’ve lived for the last few weeks,  D Street at Towerpoint Resort in Mesa.   There are a number of Canadians from Manitoba staying on D Street.  On this day there were six Canadian flags, and two American flags flying!


IMG_2850And there was this one!  I don’t know if this flag represents a mixed marriage or Canadians trying to honor both countries.

The Olympics have enabled some good natured fun and competition, but overall there is a great sense of camaraderie in the park. This past week the resort held a festival honoring the United States and Canada.

There was a king and queen from both countries to reign over the festivities which culminated in a big parade.


My favorite activity in the park has been Zumba and our group walked and danced in the parade.

It was a cold morning (45ish) so we had some liquid fortitude.


We warmed up in the staging area.  I’m the one in the long pants!


Randy carried the Zumba banner.


Uncle Sam is our only Zumba guy.

fullsizeoutput_4538There were a number of nice floats.  This one represents the Peace Arch at the international border between Blaine, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia.


We were there in 2014!



In another story of friendship, we learned about a restaurant in Phoenix called the Joy Bus Diner.  The story began in 2011 as one friend helped another with meals during cancer treatments.

P1000401The story evolved into a 100% non-profit restaurant whose mission it is to provide “chef crafted meals and caring conversation to cancer patients.”


We were happy to go for lunch and support the effort.  Friends, together making a difference.


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Chapter 2: Randy’s Social Director

Since we’ve been together, and especially since we’ve been on the road, Randy has been content for me to be his social director.  He frequently doesn’t bother with what’s next on our schedule until he needs to know.  He reserves the right to stay home if there are too many museums and will occasionally object. (His most recent objection was the Phoenix Renaissance Fair but I was lukewarm so it didn’t matter.) I generally know the types of things he enjoys.  I also know to leave adequate down time.

28337708_10209425374825979_438006994597628128_oHe also wants time for the occasional golf game.  Especially if it involves our nephew Sean,  brother Tim and Sean’s brother-in-law Kyle.

Entertainment is big on this social director’s priority list!  Vast entertainment options are part of why we are loving Mesa.

Selectie+RotD+2017-050We began with Rhythm of the Dance, a Celtic style troupe from Ireland. The dancing was great but we enjoyed the music and varied instruments just as much.  This photograph is from their website because our camera just didn’t take good low light pictures. It also had another dust spot and wasn’t opening and closing well. A camera just doesn’t last in our lifestyle. It is always in my pocket or purse and gets pulled in and out and knocked around.  I’m hard on them but if we’re going to have pictures for the blog that is just the way it is.   So, we bought an updated model at Costco. Randy read the manual and I need to!

fullsizeoutput_4511We were interested in how the new model would perform in low-light. We took pictures at the LeeAnn Rimes concert at the RV Resort next door. The pictures were marginal but we found two that were usable.  The concert was better than the pictures! LeeAnn Rimes has a beautiful, powerful voice and sings a variety of music genre. Like many vocal artists, she has re-worked the songs from way back and that was bittersweet.

fullsizeoutput_4512Because the concert was at the next resort over, we thought we’d save ourselves parking issues and walk. That worked well going at 7:00. Coming home we were four minutes late to access the back gate and had to walk a mile plus to get back around to our resort’s front gate.   The blocks are big here!


fullsizeoutput_445bWe enjoy western dinner theaters and visited Rockin’R Ranch for their version. This is a family operation and daughter Chelsea was great pre-dinner entertainment. Family dog Montana has apparently heard the show too many times and just wanted to go outside.

P1000286We enjoyed another family of entertainers – The Duttons. They were finalists on Season 2 of America’s Got Talent.  Parents, siblings, spouses and grandchildren split their year between theaters in Branson and Mesa.  The multi-generational show is good wholesome fun.


The youngest Dutton’s have their own part of the show.  They split their school years between Branson and Mesa Public Schools.

Eating can also be entertainment! We look for food tours as we travel and enjoyed the Arizona Food Tour in Scottsdale.


We had a rainy day for our food tour.  The yellow and green bikes in the picture are easy pick up and rental all over Scottsdale.

fullsizeoutput_4484Food tours usually provide some local history.  We began at the Old Adobe, Mission,  the oldest church in Scottsdale.  It began as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in 1933.

fullsizeoutput_4513The city that became Scottsdale was developed on land owned by former Civil War Army Chaplain Winfield Scott.  Arriving in 1888, he called his community Orangedale. It was eventually renamed for him (Scottsdale) but also had the moniker “The West’s Most Western Town.”


Back to the food!  We started with a Mexican sampling at The Mission Restaurant!


We had a lesson and delicious pairings at Outrageous Olive Oils and Vinegars.


Our soup and local beer at Malee’s Thai Bistro were delicious.

fullsizeoutput_449cWe had Stetson salad at Cowboy Caio! It was delicious, unique, and we got the recipe!


We enjoyed sitting and chatting with different couples on our tour.

fullsizeoutput_44aeWe finished the tour with three small cookies at SuperChunk Bakery.  I ate the first one before I remembered to take a picture!


Because it was a rainy day we utilized the free Scottsdale Trolley on our tour.

We aren’t done being entertained yet.  There will likely be more in future chapters of Loving Mesa.





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Loving Mesa: Chapter 1

Years ago the book club I belonged to read Loving Frank. We all enjoyed the book but did not come away fans of Frank Lloyd Wright the person. For me, that sentiment was tempered somewhat when Randy and I toured his Scottsdale home, Taliesin West, last year.

In the same way, Randy and I have not generally been fans of the Phoenix area. It is huge, the air and traffic can be bad, and it gets a little hot in the summer! We never aspired to spend a lot of time here. However, as we have returned each of the last few years, our sentiments have been tempered.  Okay, more than tempered.  I’ll just say it – We are loving Mesa!

fullsizeoutput_4460That being said, we are enjoying, but not loving, our RV resort. It is clean and has lots to do but the spaces are really tight. I spent the first week deciding on my on-going activities.  Zumba here and Line Dancing at the resort next door made my list but drumming for exercise did not.

Making mats for the homeless out of plastic shopping bags is certainly a worthy way to spend an afternoon each week but the ladies just weren’t that welcoming so I didn’t go back. Their good work goes on without me though!

fullsizeoutput_44faRandy and Elko settled right in to relaxing in the sun, doing never ending chores, and chatting with the neighbors.  Here Randy is reading about his new satellite tripod.

fullsizeoutput_44fcElko enjoys the dog park and one or both of us take him four or five times a day.
It’s black cousin time at the dog park!

Randy’s brother Tim and wife Yvette live in the area and we have had great times visiting with them each week. These posed photos were a little painful for all of us but we were granting a request from our Aunt Lahoma. Dinners in, dinners out, and card playing have all been great.

fullsizeoutput_44fdThis drink looked like a good idea, but it really tasted AWFUL.

fullsizeoutput_4432Scorpion hunting at Tim and Yvette’s house has been a bit of a bust this year but really, that’s a good thing!

fullsizeoutput_4500We picked grapefruit from their trees and oranges from their neighbor’s trees.


P1000354This sign was posted at Randy’s parents’ cabin in the White Mountains many, many moons  ago.    Tim and Yvette have had it in their back yard for years.

After discussing how many times people have incorrectly written the possessive Matthews, Randy decided to remove the offending apostrophe. Better late than never!

On our own, Randy and I enjoyed a ride on the Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake. The highlight was the large Big Horn Sheep who seemed to want to strike just the right pose.


Can you find him?


He kept moving so we could get good pictures, or maybe he was watching us like we were watching him.

fullsizeoutput_4483The same outing took us to Superstition Saloon in Tortilla Flat. They advertise “Killer Chili,” and it was very good, but it was the wall paper that interested us the most!

fullsizeoutput_4481There are $1 bills covering nearly every corner of the walls all around the large saloon. We were told (twice because I didn’t believe I heard right the first time) that there are over $300,000 on the walls! My guess was $4000 – I was way off!  Pretty amazing!

We have experienced way more around Mesa than I can tell in one blog post. I’m not sure how many chapters Loving Mesa will be in the end but for now I need to go make cookies.

Tonight I have book club here in the RV resort and I volunteered to bring treats. We will discuss the Storied Life of AJ Fikrey. AJ was an admirable main character with none of the complications we had while trying to love Frank Lloyd Wright.

Until Chapter 2!

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Southern Arizona Questions

Several questions came up during our wanderings in southern Arizona, like what is The Thing?   I noticed my first “The Thing?” billboard between Phoenix and Tucson about 40 years ago.   The more you travel around southern Arizona, the more billboards you see. (It is similar to the Wall Drug billboards across the northern US for those who have seen those.)

fullsizeoutput_43bfThe answer to the question was never important enough to actually drive there, but since we were in the vicinity – it was finally time!

fullsizeoutput_43c0Suffice it to say that The Thing is not the archeologic wonder they hint at it being but the whole experience was mildly entertaining for a tourist trap. (I’m not going to spoil the fun!)  We enjoyed our Blizzards at the attached Daily Queen a bit more but it was wasn’t a wasted half hour.

fullsizeoutput_43bdAnother question:  Why are there miles of train engines sitting out in the desert?

A Google search revealed that (as of 2016) there were 292 engines stored in the desert due to a weak coal market. Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner and there just isn’t the need to transport as much coal anymore.

fullsizeoutput_43d2Next question:  After we walk 1.2 miles to the lake, will there be sandhill cranes? The area around Willcox is the winter home for sandhill cranes from all over North America. We could hear them from our RV park in Willcox.

fullsizeoutput_43d3We went looking one morning, but there was no guarantee….

fullsizeoutput_43d4When we got to the viewing area, there were no sandhill cranes at the lake….Fortunately, after we walked the 1.2 miles back out, we met some people preparing to walk in. We were able to tell them the cranes weren’t there and they told us where they’d just seen some.

fullsizeoutput_43d7We saw about 40 cranes (instead of hundreds or thousands) but we were only about 100 yards from them, much closer than we’d have been from the viewing area!

fullsizeoutput_43d8The unanswerable question:   What happened to our calculator? Obviously this question has nothing to do with southern Arizona except that is where it died.

fullsizeoutput_43d1Randy brought this calculator home from Hewlett Packard to do evening work sometime in 1981 or 1982.   Our dog, Anna, chewed the corner of the calculator and cover so it couldn’t go back to HP. It became our home calculator for the next 36 or 37 years. Once I got used to HPs “reverse polish” way of doing calculations,  I never wanted to use a regular calculator again.   It was chewed up and battered but it worked.

The calculator survived the dog,  decades of me using 1/100 of its capability, and almost 4 years of temperature extremes in the trailer.   After a recent move, we found the calculator still in its regular storage place but dead with a cracked screen. So, the mystery is what happened to the calculator.   Unfortunately, that is a question we will never be able to answer.

The TBD question:  Do we have a major slide problem?  As we left Kartchner Caverns State Park and arrived in Willcox, our largest slide binded and bucked as it was going in and out.  Slide repairs usually require hoists and lifts and forklifts and all kinds of things Handy Randy doesn’t have in his bag of tricks.

fullsizeoutput_43c1He looked anyway and found some loose bolts and some sticking tape, nothing that seemed to warrant the problems we’d seen.   I found there was no one in Willcox able to work on something as major as a slide so searching out help in Mesa was our best bet.

After a pleasant few days in Willcox, the slide seemed to move fine but Randy still wanted to have it looked at in Mesa.  We found a company, RV Renovators,  willing to let us do a drive by on our way into town so they could see what was wrong.  That way they’d know what parts to order for the repair.  When they looked at it, watching it move in and out, they couldn’t see anything wrong with the slide.  No repair needed – and no charge!  Did Handy Randy fix the slide just by removing some sticking tape and tightening some bolts?   The answer to that question is still to be determined!


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“So God Awful Far Away From Everything”

With Randy growing up in Tucson, and with all the traipsing around we’ve done, there was still a part of Arizona we had neglected.  We finally went to the place that is “so God awful far away from everything.”  You’ll hear more about the woman who spoke those words later in the blog.  For now, know that we traveled to the southeast corner of Arizona, close to the borders with Mexico and New Mexico.

We visited the Chiricahua National Monument, established in 1924.

fullsizeoutput_43efThe area is a geologic four corners.  Four ecosystems meet in the Chiricahua Mountains including the Chihuahuan Desert, The Sonoran Desert, The Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Mountains.

fullsizeoutput_43e6Geologists call the area a sky island because it is an isolated mountain range surrounded by a grassland sea. Created by volcanic ash, continental lift, water, ice and erosion, the pinnacles are beautiful! The Chiricahua Apache called the mountain pinnacles “standing up rocks.”

fullsizeoutput_43fdThe Chiricahua Apache lived in the area for hundreds of years. They mostly avoided the Spaniards but bitter warfare erupted with the Mexicans when they owned Apache native lands.


The United States acquired the land by means of the 1854 Gadsden Purchase with intent to facilitate shipping by constructing a deep southern transcontinental railroad route. The purchase also reconciled border issues with Mexico.

The Apache were a roaming people. The Chiricahua band, led by Cochise, lived peaceably with their white neighbors. P1140613

These Apache homes were easy to recreate when it was time to move on.

John Butterfield established an Overland Mail Route that went through Apache Pass.  It operated for three years, ending as the Civil War began.


These are the remains of the Butterfield Stage Stop at Apache Pass.


A portion of the 2800 mile Butterfield route remains.  In three years the Overland Mail group was attacked by Apache only once and the mail was late only three times.


The Apache and stage station operators shared the only consistent fresh water spring in the area.

fullsizeoutput_43c9In an 1861 incident known as The Bascom Affair, brash young Lt. Bascom was sent to the Apache Pass area to rescue a Mexican boy and return some stolen cattle. He mistakenly believed Cochise responsible and held him and his party hostage until the boy and cattle were to be returned. Cochise escaped but others in his party were subsequently killed.  The incident sparked open warfare for eleven years.

In 1862, the Apache ambushed troops which led to the establishment of Ft. Bowie. It served as a hub for military campaigns between 1862 and 1886.


Cochise made peace with the white men in 1872 and negotiated a reservation that included Chiricahua Apache traditional homelands.fullsizeoutput_4400

No photographs of Cochise exists, but this formation is thought to be Cochise at rest in his native land.

After Cochise’ death, young Apache men grew discontent on the reservation which lead to the rise of Geronimo. Geronimo and his followers finally surrendered in 1886, and were held at Ft. Bowie before being taken into exile in Florida.   Ft. Bowie was decommissioned in 1894.


We walked into what remains at Ft. Bowie after meeting a ranger for a 1.5 mile hike and tour through Apache Pass.


fullsizeoutput_43ceThere are remains of many of the buildings, some with a limestone covering to prevent further deterioration.


fullsizeoutput_43e5Better preserved is the former home of a young Swedish American soldier from Ft. Bowie, Neil Ericcson and his wife Emma. After his service, Neil and his wife moved the short distance into the mountains.   They raised three daughters on their land eventually starting a guest house so people could enjoy the “Wonderland of Rocks.”


fullsizeoutput_43e2Their eldest daughter Lillian and her husband Ed Riggs eventually became the guest keepers.  Lillian named it  FarAway Ranch because it was ‘so God awful far away from everywhere.’


The nearby Stafford Cabin, built in 1880, was purchased and renovated for additional guest quarters.


It was “God awful far away”, but there was still a swimming pool!


Ed Riggs was instrumental in the area becoming a national monument in 1924.


The CCC were here during the 1930’s and built roads and trails.

fullsizeoutput_43e3We weren’t able to go inside the guest house as tours are available only on weekends but that is just incentive to go back someday!  There is a trail called Echo Pass we plan to explore (Elko wasn’t allowed) so we’ll do that too.  Having waited so long to visit the Land of Standing Rocks the first time, we aren’t likely to wait so long again.


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The Tale of Two Caves

We enjoy caves and tour them whenever possible. We have a good understanding of stalactites (hang tight from the ceiling) and stalagmites (grow from the ground), columns, drapery, flowstone and bacon. We know about bat guano and white nose syndrome. We’re into caves!

fullsizeoutput_43b6There are two show caves in southern Arizona with very different stories.  Colossal cave is  large with thirty nine miles of natural tunnels. It took two years to map the two miles of complex passages that are fully explored.

fullsizeoutput_43b7The cave was “discovered” in 1879, but artifacts indicate that it was long ago used by prehistoric peoples.  The cave’s colorful history began in 1887 when it was a hideout for bank robbers and then bandits in the 1920s.

An early owner of the cave also owned a local hotel. For decades hotel guests were invited to visit the cave and break off stalactites as souvenirs.  Sigh….

P1140540We were sad to see the damage done to Colossal Cave.  Nearly every stalactite was broken off.  The cave has been dry for many years so there is no new growth.


Looking up into the broken stalactites.

The tour guide pointed out that a positive aspect of the destruction is that we can see the age rings of the stalactites, and know the damage that can happen when a fragile cave environment is subject to human interference.


A stalagmite that has been rubbed and handled.

Thankfully, a more responsible owner, Frank Schmidt,  began protection efforts  for Colossal Cave in the 1920s.  He led tours for many years.


In honor of the CCC

Four hundred members of the Civilian Conservation Corps worked in Colossal Cave from 1934 – 1938.  They installed the hand rails and footpaths that are still in use today to guide visitors safely through the cave. The sadness we felt at the damage to Colossal Cave formations was offset by the impressive work of the CCC.

P1140556Our tour guide said the CCC also installed new cave formations “stalag-lights” to enhance a visitor’s trip through the cave.

The second cave open to visitors in southern Arizona has a completely different story. The cave that would become Kartchner Caverns was discovered by two University of Arizona students in 1974, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts. They were amateur cavers intrigued by the geology of the area. They found a sinkhole with a grapefruit size hole that was “breathing”. They dug the whole a little bigger and squeezed their way in, traveling about 400 feet.



For four years they explored the cave believing they were on BLM land. They desperately wanted to protect the cave from damage so kept its existence secret.


Learning they were actually on private land, they approached the owners with a slideshow of pictures taken in this cave and pictures from other caves that were not protected. Landowners James and Lois Kartchner, he a former science teacher and school superintendent, shared the vision of protecting the cave.


It took 10 more years of secrecy, only informing need to know Arizona legislators, for the state to purchase the land which would become Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Once the purchase became common knowledge, guards were hired to protect the cave. The state supported almost four years of scientific study to learn everything possible about the cave’s ecosystem.

P1140478There was no evidence of human visitation and very little evidence of animal trespass. Eighty thousand year old bones from a single Shasta ground sloth were found and identified. A full adult coyote skeleton from more recent times was also found.


The cave appeared to have been a closed environment for hundreds of thousands of years. The caverns were (and continue to be)  “wet” with pristine, growing formations.

The challenge for the park system was (and is) to maintain the ecosystem but still allow visitation. A trail system was developed over several years using strategies to minimize impact to the cave itself.


Electric powered hand tools were used to make cave trails. No gas powered machinery was ever used. One of the two caverns was (and still is) closed six months each year to accommodate the seasonal bat population.

There are strict protocols for visiting the cave – age restrictions, no cameras, no backpacks, no food or water – all designed to protect the cave ecosystem.  (The pictures of Kartchner cave formations in this blog are all from the internet.)

A visitor walks through a series of four air-tight doors and a mister to enter (and exit) the cave so as not to disrupt natural pressures, temperatures and humidity levels. These are constantly monitored and tours may be reduced in size or eliminated to maintain the cave’s equilibrium. We were told it is one of the most protected “show caves” in the world.

After seeing what can happen if a cave is not protected, we were very impressed with the work and commitment the Arizona State Park system extends to Kartchner Caverns. Every cave we see in the future will be compared to these caverns for their beauty and protection.


And we are not alone.  Lots of people are impressed with Kartchner Caverns!




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Two Terrific Arizona State Parks

For years we have considered Oregon State Parks to be the gold standard of state parks.  We learned last winter that Arizona parks are also stellar.  This month we visited two more terrific Arizona state parks.

Our first was Picacho Peak State Park, near Casa Grande. There is a whole Civil War battle aspect to the park that we just didn’t get to. We were too busy socializing and getting our new satellite dish to work.

fullsizeoutput_4396We spent about three hours trying to get our new system up and working. The manual doesn’t match the current receiver interface and our “lesson” with the installer went awry when he couldn’t get the joey to work.   Many thanks to our friend Dave in Yuma who answered lots of phone calls when our installer Charlie wouldn’t.  We would intermittently get TV but the satellites wouldn’t lock in.  It was a good thing Randy had sold our portable satellite at the park in Yuma or we might have gone back to it!

In frustration we turned it off, had dinner, decided to try again, and everything worked. We now believe that all we have to do is point the dish at the satellites (with the help of our phone apps) verify that the receiver is getting input and watch tv. This receiver doesn’t seem to go through all of the gyrations that our previous one did.

fullsizeoutput_4397It was good to be done with the satellite system because we had socializing to do! We met Jean and Jess while volunteering at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park in May and this was the second time we’ve seen them since.

Over the next few days we were able to spend time with Beth and Art, Rick and Diana, and Ron and Iris. These are all friends we’ve met since we went on the road in June 2014. We’ve know Beth for 3 years but everyone else we met this last year. We heard that living on the road can be this social but this was the first time we really experienced it. Of course, everyone being in Arizona for the winter helps!

fullsizeoutput_439cIt was nice to be in the Arizona desert again and I hiked around a bit at ground level.


fullsizeoutput_439dRandy hiked to the top of Picacho Peak – of course he did!

fullsizeoutput_439eAnd then we had another visitor! Boise friend Mike, now from Bullhead City, met us at Picacho Peak on his way to Tucson to pick up his new motorhome! The next day we were to meet him again at Kartchner Caverns State Park near Benson.

fullsizeoutput_43a2But first we had to set the satellite back up again. Because we were now willing to have the system work without our full understanding, it only took 30 minutes. That’s better!

Mike arrived and we got to check out the new rig! Randy spent some time going through systems with Mike and helping him with a shopping list. fullsizeoutput_43a7The next morning Mike headed home and we started exploring.

fullsizeoutput_43b3We went to Gammon’s Gulch, a movie set near Benson.  The builder and owner, Jay, has quite a history in the film industry. He acted as an extra at age five and grew up in the industry because of his father’s work. Now 70+, he has a 10 acre set that he mostly built himself.


Every western town needs a jail.


And a mine.


Jay and his wife will fine tune the shelves in the store based on the year the movie is set in.

They charge $500 a day for full access to Gammon’s Gulch compared to $3000 a day at Old Tucson.  They have hosted many movies, TV shows and music videos since 1988.

Tours are $8 per person and by appointment only.  Jay gives the tours personally and has a story for every building, every prop, and every actor he’s ever worked with.


fullsizeoutput_43acThis chandelier was from the 1995 Sharon Stone movie (whom he likes very much)  “The Quick and the Dead.”

fullsizeoutput_43b4The saloon, one of the few buildings Jay didn’t build, was created and left by a movie crew . It is movable.  We enjoyed our Gammon’s Gulch visit a lot.

We also enjoyed our visit to the park namesake Kartchner Cavern but I’m going to save that for the next blog post. Suffice it to say that it may be the best cave, with the best story, we’ve ever had the pleasure to be in – and we’ve been in quite a few.


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