Friday, December 24, 2010

Coronado and desert frustrations

We continue our journey west through Arizona, inching closer to California.  This morning the clouds threaten rain - the first of our journey in the south, and we can see that the road is wet as we near the Coronado National Memorial, but we witness not one drop of the wet stuff ourselves.  The park is named after Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer from the 1500s who was sent by the King of Spain to look for gold, which he never found (I think he was only looking on the ground, not IN it).  His route took him through the San Pedro River Valley near these majestic mountains.  We drop our trailer in a parking lot at the foot of the mountains, and drive a nail-biting, hair-pin turn filled, one-lane dirt road to Montezuma Pass at the top (elevation 6,575).  What spectacular views of the San Pedro River Valley to the east and the San Raphael Valley to the west.  Many other mountains are visible all around us, but also visible in the east valley below us is a solid, straight, black line which disappears into the mountains beyond.  We read the markers at the peak here and are informed that this is the U.S./Mexican border.  With our binoculars, we can see the American Border Patrol vehicles parked on a dirt road right beside the wall.  We skip over to the other side of the parking lot to peer through the binoculars at the view to the west.  Here, there is no solid black line, but with difficulty, we can spot a barbed wire fence.  The border has cut through the mountain we are standing on, but interestingly, it is more heavily guarded to the east than to the west.  Where we dropped our trailer, the Park Ranger had stopped and told us exactly where to park it; he was carrying some serious artillary - two visible hand guns and who knows what else.  We asked him about the border being so close since it was this morning that we realized we had camped in the RV Park only a few hundred yards away from Mexico.  Drug importation is the biggest threat here.  Inside the park, the Rangers do most of the surveillance and policing, but there are U.S. Border Patrol Officers and vehicles inside the park too.  Anyway, the views are heavenly, and we don't see any illegal immigrants.

Marilyn about to descend into the cave
Marilyn & Brad in the cave surrounded by flowstone
Also inside the park is a cave.  We are allowed to explore this cave on our own, unlike any commercialized cave.  It is a steep .75 mile climb up a rocky trail to get to it (so I'm figuring it had better be worth it!).  It doesn't have a lot of the beautiful mineral formations that many caves like Carlsbad has, but to be able to wander anywhere in the cave is fantastic.  We are not allowed to touch anything because it is still considered a living cave, meaning the formations (stalactites and stalagmites) are still forming, but we see a lot of evidence of vandalism, although it's hard to say when some of it happened.  For instance, all of the stalactites that are within reach of people have been broken off, but did that happen before the park became a park or after?  We suspect before, otherwise the government would likely have protected this cave better.  Also, people have scratched their initials into rocks that have fallen from the ceiling, but thankfully not the columns.  We find a small crawlspace, and Brad starts drooling.  He drops the backpack, grabs the flashlight, gives me the camera and says, "I'm goin' in!"  Great!  We have 2 flashlights and a Coleman lantern, but for me to be left by my lonesome while he scrapes through the hole on his belly into the unknown is still frightening, and damn!  I forgot to get the truck keys from him!  I cannot see his light or hear his voice for at least 5 minutes - an eternity when you are waiting for your spouse in near darkness, not knowing what has happened to them, but he does return, very dusty and dirty.  "I could have gone further," he says, "but it was getting really narrow, and I don't have a helmet or kneepads, and I thought you might be getting worried."  Thanks!  I was, because you have the truck keys!  The cave extends about 600 feet in length, with 20-foot high ceilings.  It is very dry with a mostly sand bottom.  It is a steep decline to get into initally, made all the more difficult because it's like looking into the abyss after hiking in the bright sunshine outside.  But it was a new and exciting experience to explore a cave unsupervised.

The next day, we head further northwest to Tucson and Saguaro (sa-war-ro) National Monument (the western part of the park, as there are two parts).  The road sign says that there is a 12,000 pound limit - yeah, the truck and trailer are pretty close, so we'll give it a go.  It's a steep climb at the beginning, but hopefully the Visitors Centre is nearby and we can find out about the hiking trails.  We come to a parking lot and actually manage to fit all 50 feet of us into it, and ask people if they know where the Visitors Centre is.  "Yeah, it's just up here somewhere."  Thanks for the explicit directions.  We debate whether to turn around and leave, or go on - we both have a bad feeling about this, but we go on.  The park also seems very busy; the traffic is unbelievably heavy, but it is Saturday.  Well, we find no Visitors Centre, just a sign about 3 minutes later saying "Leaving Saguaro National Monument".  Really?  I consult the map again.  Hmm.  Well, I see.  This road does go straight through the park for a short bit.  There was a dirt road that turned to the left, not a road I'd like to take our 31-foot trailer down, and no sign saying there was a Visitors Centre.  Unfortunately, we have no literature on this park, even after all the Visitors Centres in the various towns we've been in.  We decide to move on.  But the saguaro cacti are beautiful, and the concentration of them here is numerically challenging.

After that disappointment, we head for the Sonoran National Monument just west on I-8.  Now remember, national monuments are part of the national park system.  But again - no Visitors Center, no sign that we're even entering the Sonoran National Monument, nothing!  Jeepers!  Why bother naming these bits of desert and putting boundaries around them on a map?  We give up and stop for the night in Gila Bend.  California, here we come!

Funny Grady story.  Brad and I pop in a old Journey CD as we travel along the interstate - the great, old 1980s songs mostly.  It's amazing that after 30 years, we still remember all the words, and yet we have difficulty remembering the details of what we did a couple of days ago!  Ahh, well, back to Grady.  Brad and I are singing along at the top of our lungs, and the tunes are cranked pretty good.  Grady is in the back seat, meowing at the top of HIS lungs - perhaps singing along too, or maybe just trying to be heard.  Maybe he doesn't like Journey.  Randy Jackson, care to vote?  "The cat and the old guy are pitchy, but the pretty, young lady in the passenger seat is pretty good.  She's going straight to Hollywood, baby!"

1 comment:

  1. Missed opportunity: a video posted to YouTube of Grady singing with you, that makes you millionaires when Grady cuts his first CD - Beiber did it!!!