Posted by: edandracheltravel | March 5, 2009

Update No. 31, St. David, Arizona

For a guy who grew up playing outlaws and sheriff’s posse and cowboys and Indians, and in his pre-teens, built a life-size western town that included a saloon, a bank and a blacksmith shop in the sagebrush field behind our home, the desert Southwest is a paradise. I grew up in rural East Wenatchee in Eastern Washington State on a rocky sagebrush bench overlooking the Columbia River—not unlike the area we are in presently. This is real cowboy and Indian country. From the outskirts of Phoenix and Casa Grande to Benson and Willcox, Arizona, the rural areas and small towns are still the realm of Western romance.

 Here Snowbirds and tourists in their plaid shorts, tee shirts and fanny packs mingle with cowboys in their western shirts, jeans and tennis shoes (mainly, long-haul truck drivers are the only ones who wear cowboy boots, though those cowboys here who still ride horses in their work do wear them).

 Many of the western movies I grew up with and continue to enjoy were filmed in this area. Four movie set western towns were built close by, and we have been fortunate to have visited or been as close as possible to all of them or what remains of them.


The most famous and familiar is Old Tucson (See Link), about 10 miles west of downtown Tucson in the Tucson Mountain County Park which borders the Saguaro National Park. Many familiar westerns were filmed here, including the first, for which the set was built, Arizona, in 1939, starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. Previous Westerns had been filmed on soundstages and were not very convincing. The Old Tucson set lay dormant until 1945, when it was revitalized for The Bells of St. Mary’s, starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman, followed by a succession of films including Three Who Were Thoroughbreds (1946), The Last Roundup (1947, starring Gene Autry and Jean Heather), Cavalry Charge, A.K.A. The Last Outpost (1950, starring Ronald Reagan, Rhonda Fleming, Bruce Bennet and Hugh Beaumont), and Winchester 73 (1950, starring James Stewart and Shelly Winters).


Twenty westerns were filmed there in the 1950s including Gunfight at the OK Corral (1956 version) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1957), and Cimarron (1959) with Glenn Ford. Soon TV series were also using the town, such as Wagon Train; Have Gun, Will Travel; Bonanza and Death Valley Days. It remained exclusively a movie set until 1959, when a Midwest entrepreneur leased the property and expanded it and opened it to the public as an attraction. In 1970, Virginia and Truckee locomotive 11, “Reno,” was purchased from MGM Studios and taken to Old Tucson. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged along with other V&T equipment in a devastating fire.


Mescal, Old Tucson’s sister movie set, is located 40 miles southeast of Tucson and a few miles west of Benson. In several attempts to visit, and though information said the set was open to visitors, we have never found it open. We have gotten to within a half mile before being stopped by a locked gate. Messages from Old Tucson say that repair work is being done. An aerial view in Google Earth (32 degrees 00’ 33.84” N, 110 degrees 26’ 16.06” W, elev. 4124 ft.) shows the layout of the town (See Link).


Apacheland, another movie set town, was located a little east of Apache Junction, which is east of Phoenix. Several westerns were filmed there, including Charro, starring Elvis Presley and several others starring Audie Murphy, Buster Crabbe, Glenn Ford and John Wayne. Built in the 1950s, the set burned twice, once in 1969 and again in 2004. The second fire destroyed all but the chapel and the livery barn, which were moved to the Superstition Mountain Museum a few miles north on Apache Trail out of Apache Junction.


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Apacheland Chapel and Livery Stable reconstructed at the Superstition Mountain Museum


 Just 12 miles directly north of the town of Benson and past the community of Pomerene is the most recent movie set, Gammons Gulch (See Link). Owner, Jay Gammon, with his wife, Joanne, realized his dream to have a movie set town by building his own. Recently we visited with several others from our Western Horizon RV park in St. David and received a personal tour from Jay himself.


 Jay Gammons greets guests at Gammons Gulch













This movie set is about the same size as Mescal, but is completely open to visitors. Each building contains authentic antiques from historic landmarks, and Jay knows about all of them. The town consists of a saloon, a mercantile, a blacksmith shop, a fire station, and many other buildings and fronts. There is a mine and appurtenant buildings across a wash and up a hill.  It also has a boot hill where Gammons pets are buried.


Jay Gammon is no stranger to Westerns. His father was the bodyguard (or probably more accurately the Nuisance Guard) for John Wayne and had bit parts in several movies. Jay proudly displays a photo of himself with John Wayne when Jay was a child. 


gammons-gulch-1812    gammons-gulch-2033

 The Morning Glory Mine at Gammons Gulch   Ed takes a breather at the mine overlooking



 Rachel and I enthusiastically encourage you to visit Gammons Gulch if you find yourself in this area.


 Just northeast out of Apache Junction is the Superstition Mountain Museum where the surviving Apacheland buildings are located (See Link). This museum sits at the base of Superstition Mountain, site of The Lost Dutchman Mine. This legend, if that is what it is, has always fascinated me. The “Dutchman,” for whom the legend was named was actually a “Deutschman,” or a German immigrant. His Anglicized name was Jacob Waltz (or Woltz, probably from Wolz, or Volz in Germany). His story is told very well elsewhere (See Link). It is a very interesting story and I encourage you to read about him if you like mysteries.




Mercantile at Goldfield, Arizona


We spent part of a day at the museum, walked through the Apacheland buildings, and then drove another half mile to Goldfield, Arizona (not to be confused with Goldfield, Nevada). This Goldfield is an Old West town that has been built on the site of a former mine. It is purely tourist, but since we love that sort of thing and acknowledge it for what it is, we enjoyed it very much. The mine headframe remains from the early 20th Century and much equipment from the mine is displayed.


We took a short drive a little further northeast on Apache Trail to the Lost Dutchman State Park and Campground, located at the very foot of Superstition Mountain. Hiking trails start in the park and go up the face and canyons of the mountain. These days the Apaches are no longer a threat and the only things to be concerned with are the scorpions and rattlesnakes. One day in the future we hope to return, perhaps spend a few nights in the State Park and make some of the hikes onto the mountain—and maybe find that lost mine.


While we were still parked in Casa Grande, we spent some time visiting with cousins Larry and Linda Barnhart, from Wenatchee, Washington, who spend winters there. They recommended we go to the Arizona Opry, and since that was the second time we had had the recommendation, we decided to do it. (The first time was from Kerry Christensen who, at the time, was a partner in the Arizona Opry and performed there each winter, alternating with Leavenworth, Washington in the summer. He is perhaps the best yodeler we have ever heard, bar none.) The Arizona Opry is a dinner show featuring the Barleen Family musicians, including twin sisters Brenda Barleen and Barbara Barleen-Staerkel, the Arizona State Champion fiddler, and several other accomplished musicians. The musical director is Barbara’s husband, George Staerkel—an outstanding musician who plays 50 instruments during the show. It is a wonderful show with family entertainment and varied music performed well. (See Link)


Casa Grande has its own Calvary Chapel, so we were right at home attending church there. David Landry is an outstanding teacher, very well organized and an effective speaker. As we mentioned to him that we were on our way to the Sierra Vista area and would be attending there for four Sundays, he asked us to say hello to his mentor, Pat Lazovich. He had spent several years in the Sierra Vista church and had gone from there to Casa Grande to start the church there.


aa-3451                  Brothers Neil and Ed Barnhart


We had been looking forward to seeing my brother Neil and his wife, JoLynne, while we were in the area, so one day we drove from Casa Grande to Prescott Valley and spent two nights with them. We enjoyed catching up. We hadn’t seen them since Christmas, 2006. We really enjoyed our time together.


Another family-type thing we did was to find and visit the RV park where my parents used to stay during winters after Dad retired from the Northern Fruit Company in Wenatchee. Every fall for several years they used to load up the 1969 Plymouth Fury four-door with canned goods and clothes and head for Mesa, Arizona. I remembered them asking me to make a sign for the front of the RV they rented while they were there. When we were having the estate sale after they moved out of their home shortly before they each died in 2006, I found that sign. It said, “The Barnharts, Wenatchee Wash.” Today that routed sign adorns our RV whenever we set up in an RV park.


Anyway, on our way to Superstition Mountain one day we included Mesa on our route and found Aztec RV Park and drove in and located the very spot they had occupied those several winters. At that time the idea of fulltime RVing had not entered my mind, but now finding the spot where they stayed means more to me.


Before we had accomplished everything we intended to do while we were there, it was time to leave Casa Grande and move on farther southeast. It had rained buckets the day before we were scheduled to leave for Benson, so we were prepared with panchos and hats for getting ready to move while it was raining. We pleasantly awoke the next morning to clear sunny skies. As several of us prepared to leave for various destinations that day a man walked by laughing and said, “This makes me think of the Exodus. The waters part and everyone leaves!”


We arrived in Benson in the southeast corner of Arizona and got a wonderful site again backed up to the desert, which allowed us to walk out our door and into the desert on several hikes over the next two weeks. We didn’t hike on the second day there, because when we awoke that morning, everything was covered with two inches of snow! It doesn’t snow often in Benson, but we seem to be weather magnets wherever we go, so we weren’t surprised when school was canceled in Benson for the first time in 13 years while we were there. And no, we were not in Atlanta, Georgia, recently when it snowed there; that must have been someone else.


The Benson/St. David area is one of my favorite places. There is so much to see and do here that we scheduled two weeks in a park just south of Benson and another two weeks at a park south of St. David, just six miles away. It is also just about 30 miles from Sierra Vista where Calvary Chapel Sierra Vista is located. The pastor there is Pat Lazovich, and he is a great teacher.


This is high desert, and while the temperatures are in the high 60s and low 70s in the typical winter day, it can get to freezing at night—which it did for several nights our first two weeks. That has never been a problem in the past, because our RV is well insulated. However, this time it presented a small problem in the form of two citrus trees and a hibiscus plant we have with us that we had to keep inside the RV with us for several days and nights.


When we got to San Diego, intending to stay for the foreseeable future, one of the first things we did was to get a dwarf lemon and a dwarf orange tree. We repotted them and nurtured them. As we prepared to leave San Diego on December 1 last year, the lemon tree was “with child,” sporting eleven lemons. The orange tree was also coming into full bloom. So, we simply did not have the heart to leave the trees. Also, we received a beautiful hibiscus plant from Wes and Bonnie Oosterman. A rare San Diego hail storm riddled the plant and we had been nursing it back to health, so that also came with us and is now quite beautiful. So, even though foremost in the minds of RVers is weight, we carry probably 100 pounds of dirt with us when we move the RV!


This is Apache Country. Within 50 miles in all directions are attractions, memorials and monuments having to do with the Chiricahua Apaches, including Geronimo and Cochise. It is also cowboy country. One of our first trips here was to Willcox, birthplace of Rex Allen, one of the early singing cowboy movie stars (See Link).




 Rex Allen bronze in the city park at Willcox, Arizona. His horse Koko is buried under the statue

 Everything having to do with Rex Allen is in the museum in the old section of Willcox. Across Railroad Avenue in the park there is a monument to him and his horse, Koko. The remains of the horse are buried in the park under the bronze statue of Allen. As we left we bought a DVD of his first movie, Arizona, and watched it when we got home.


Our next trip took us through Willcox again on our way to the Chiricahua National Monument—Land of Standing Up Rocks (see our photo on the heading). We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but had heard that it was one sight we should not miss. We drove to the end of the road at Massai Point (elevation 6870 feet), parked and ate the lunch Rachel had packed. Then we hiked the half-mile trail around the point. This trail and all the others in the park were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. The rock formations in this park are incredible, composed mostly of rhyolite.


chiricahua-apache-nat-monument-1891        Rachel climbs the rocks at the Chiricahua Grotto


We drove a short distance downhill to a parking area for several trailheads and hiked a circuit of three trails totaling about three and a half miles with an elevation change of about 450 feet. The sign at the trailhead suggests taking the route in a counter-clockwise direction, and because it would be shady and very cool by the time we reached the third segment, we almost took it the other direction. I’m glad we didn’t.


 The first trail took us through beautiful rock formations, including the Grotto. From there, the trail descended steeply 1.6 miles into Echo Canyon to Echo Park. The next segment of the trail was fairly flat ascending gradually over 8/10 mile, and the 9/10 mile last segment took us back to our point of beginning on a more or less gradual upslope. We left the car while it was warm and sunny, and when we returned two hours later, it was quite cool and getting towards dusk.  If we had taken the trail in the opposite direction, we would have descended gradually, then had the last steep climb back to our point of origin.


By the time we left the trailhead, other attractions in the park were closed. One we would have liked to see was the ranch house where the family lived that pioneered the area and was instrumental in getting the area designated as a national monument. If time permits before we leave, we will return for that (See Link).


Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Tombstone, Arizona and the famous “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?” Tombstone (See Link) is a short distance south of both our area RV resorts, and we pass through there to get most places south and southwest. We enjoy the buildings and the history of the place. The original Cochise County Courthouse is beautifully maintained and is open to the public as a National Monument. The one day we dedicated to Tombstone consisted of a narrated, informative and restful “trolley” ride through town, a walk down Allen Street (the main street of the maintained and restored old town), a little browsing through the tourist shops, and a sit-down at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Shortly after sitting down in the saloon, we realized that our attitudes have changed over time, and we no longer appreciate the ribald humor and the “bar scene.” The historical restorations are our favorite part of towns like these, and when we shop the old stores, frequently it is to get a glimpse of the interior of the old buildings.


Another of our favorite area towns is Bisbee (See Link), another 26 miles south of Tombstone, and the current Cochise County Seat. It is the location of a gigantic open-pit copper mine (no longer in operation). The town dates from the early mining days, and the ascending main street snakes a mile and a half along the bottom of Tombstone Canyon from the mine area to high up the hill, with vintage buildings lining both sides. The buildings are now nearly all filled with art galleries, eateries, bookstores (J.A. Jance uses Bisbee as the setting for many of her books featuring fictional Cochise County Sheriff, Joanna Brady, and she visits often), souvenir shops, and bars. Though we seldom eat out, we did sample the food at Santiago’s (Mexican) and at the Copper Grill (American) on two different occasions there.


We also stopped off for dessert one evening at “Chocola’te,” where a man and wife from Alaska, artisan chocolatiers, custom make chocolate starting by roasting and grinding imported beans—unlike all but three others in the US, who import their base chocolate and custom form their candy from that point. They were closing as we entered, and behind the locked entry door, we visited for half an hour about the process, sampled their wares, and left with a treasure of the finest chocolate we have had since we were in Germany and Austria in 1995.


One Sunday after church as we left southward out of Sierra Vista toward the Mexican border we found ourselves approaching the entrance to Coronado National Memorial (See Link), so we turned south on Coronado Road and drove the four miles to the visitor center. There we learned that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado passed from Mexico into what would become the United States near here on his quest for the Seven Cities of Gold (which were actually yellow-colored pueblos) and to claim all he saw and explored for Spain. His trip was a failure in several ways—his supplies were sent up the coast while his land expedition traveled farther and farther from the coast; the seven cities had no gold to speak of and he was deceived by a Turk who was trying to lure them to their death of starvation, and he eventually died in obscurity at age 42.


After our educational visit to the center, we continued on up to the Montezuma Pass Overlook on a steep, switchback gravel road. There we met Alan Creamer, Patrol Agent in Charge of the United States Border Patrol Station at Sonoita, a town to the west of the pass and north of Nogales. We visited a while until a large group arrived at the parking lot and he explained that he had been waiting for a United States Congressman and his entourage to arrive to look over the area.



 Agent in Charge Alan Creamer and Rachel at Coronado Nat’l memorial

While he met with the officials, we hiked up the Coronado Peak Trail to Coronado Peak—altitude gain 300 feet in 4/10 of a mile. From the top we were able to see far south into Mexico from Nogales and the San Rafael Valley in the west to Naco in the east, and far north up the San Pedro River Valley up which Coronado and his contingency traveled in 1540, over 450 years ago. As we returned to the parking lot, we visited again with Agent Creamer, about his impending retirement in 22 months and about his duties. He also told us that the Congressman was Norm Dicks from Washington State, the counterpart in the 6th Congressional District of Washington to our 4th District Congressman, Doc Hastings!


One thing remains that we particularly want to do before we leave here and that is to visit The Cochise Stronghold (See Link). This is the place where Cochise held out, hiding from the U.S. Government troops trying to capture him. It is located in the Dragoon Mountains east of where we are parked, south of I-10, but between us and the Chiricahua Monument. Several washes and miles of dusty, rough dirt road are between pavement end and the stronghold, so we will take the F-350 four-wheel-drive pickup on that one if we make it. From the parking lot there is a 1.5 mile hike to the area where he holed up. He is purportedly buried there somewhere, but when he was laid to rest, his friends rode their horses over the grave repeatedly, removing all trace of the location. No one to this day knows exactly where Cochise is buried there.


Our Sundays always seem to turn into marathon days. We leave the time open after we attend church wherever we are and just see how the day unwinds. We usually turn the porch light on as we leave for church early in the morning, because often as not, we get home after dark.


Last Sunday is an example. We knew we wanted to see the Buffalo Soldier Museum (See Link) on Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, so we started the day later than usual by leaving home at 10:30 to get to church by 11:30 for the third and last service (because the museum didn’t open until 1:00). We drove south from St. David about 16 miles to Tombstone and turned right and traveled to Sierra Vista, a distance of about 23 miles. One of the associate pastors at Calvary Chapel Sierra Vista, Clint Chappell, spoke in place of Pat Lazovich, the senior pastor. His outstanding message on the difference between stepping out in faith and taking steps of faith had special meaning for us as we look for opportunities to minister to those we find in our path as we travel.


After church we got through the security checkpoint and onto the military base at Fort Huachuca. We parked in the museum parking lot and ate the lunch Rachel had prepared for us. Then we spent almost two hours learning about the formation of the early western fort, about the Buffalo Soldiers, about General Blackjack Pershing, how he got his nickname because he valued the black soldiers, and how he pursued Pancho Villa into Mexico. We also learned that the son of the post band director became mayor of New York City and had an airport named for him.


We left the museum, retraced our way to Tombstone and passed straight through and drove 13 miles on a washboard road to Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks located on a ranch near the former mining town of Gleeson. There they have displayed thousands of antiques and artifacts they have gathered from the desert as well as all things made from rattlesnakes (of which there is no scarcity in this area). We continued on east past Gleeson and on to the small town of Elfrida and then turned south and drove 27 miles to the border town of Douglas where the Gadsden Hotel, built in the early 20th Century and has been restored, is located. From there we drove 26 miles to Bisbee, site of the Lavender Pit, a huge open pit mine, and one of the most interesting small towns in the Southwest. We had dinner at the Copper Grill and then drove back to St. David, passing through Tombstone on the way for the third time that day. We arrived home at 8:45 p.m.


We have had a couple of trials as everyone does. Being on the road with no permanent medical contacts presents challenges, but they are easily overcome. One of those had to do with a dental problem which was taken care of by a technologically up-to-date dentist in Yuma, Dr. Dennis Wong. Another issue was my eyeglasses. We decided it was time to get new lenses for my glasses, so we found a Lenscrafters in Palm Desert. Two weeks later, the lenses they made were already scratched, so we visited another Lenscrafters in Yuma. They determined that the lenses were not polycarbonate as they were supposed to be, but plastic, so they replaced them free of charge. Last week in St. David, the wind caught the door of the RV and flipped off my glasses and they landed in the gravel, face down, gouging a lens. We found another Lenscrafters in Tucson and got the new lenses replaced again, this time at half off the normal price.


The third issue had to do with batteries. When we boondocked for a week in the desert east of Yuma, we noticed that our batteries were not charging fully, and so each day we started out with less power than the day before. We made it through the seven days we were there and when we got to Casa Grande we decided to do something about it. With deep-cycle batteries such as RVs use, it is advisable to “equalize” them periodically. We had replaced the batteries before we left Wenatchee in 2007, and had not equalized them since.


The six batteries are located in two pull-out trays on the side of the RV. To get to them you simply release a catch and pull out the tray—which is normally quite free-moving. However, after nearly two years in the saltwater climate of San Diego, they had become not so free-moving, unbeknownst to me. I grabbed on to the outermost battery terminal cable and tugged on the tray and what moved was not the tray, but the cable and half the battery post! A little Yankee ingenuity and some jury-rigging, and I had drilled and tapped the remaining metal of the post and remounted the cable to the battery. After carefully pulling out the second tray, I discovered that when the batteries were installed, the installer had done exactly the same thing to the back battery and repaired it exactly the same way—and, of course, didn’t tell me. So much for our trials.


We have loved our time in the desert in spite of the absence of salt water and surf. We haven’t seen all the things we wanted to see or all the people we wanted to visit. God willing, they will still be available to us when we pass this way again. In a few days we will make a three-day road trip with me in the truck pulling the RV and Rachel following in the convertible running interference for me. We will travel from St. David AZ to Las Cruces NM the first day (233 miles), to Fort Stockton TX the second day (281 miles) and to Fredericksburg TX the third day (258 miles). These distances are about a hundred miles a day farther than we enjoy driving between stops, and we really like to spend at least a week or two in each location, but we are really interested in getting from where we are to Fredericksburg and the San Antonio area, so we will spend just a night in each place and drive straight through.


For three weeks we will be surrounded by German culture again, particularly the first and third weeks. Fredericksburg and New Braunfels are two German communities. We should be able to find a little polka music in one or both of those places. In between, we will be in San Antonio, location of the Riverwalk and the best hamburger we have ever eaten—and the best French fries and onion rings! It is also where we will have four new tires installed—the only place we could find Load Range G tires between San Diego and there. While our tires have only about 6,000 miles on them, they are approaching “old age” of five years, and they sat stationary for most of two years in San Diego. Both those things contribute to tire failure, and we don’t want a repeat of 2005, when we had two blowouts on the RV, causing body damage.


We have booked two special events in the future along our path. On March 29, the day after our 171st (month) wedding anniversary and the six-year anniversary of moving out of our East Wenatchee home and into the RV, we will ride the Bertram Flyer, a tourist train north of Austin, Texas. It departs Cedar Park and travels two and a half hours to Burnet through Texas Hill Country. After a lunch and shopping layover there the train returns to Cedar Park.


The other event is in Kansas City. We modified our original schedule a bit so we could be there when friends Mike and Kay Stokes and there visiting her mother. That happens to coincide with the Annual Kansas City Barbecue Cook-off! 


We would enjoy hearing from you. Write us in care of our e-mail address or our mailing address, both of which you will find by clicking the “About” button in the header of this Weblog.


We invite you to check out the topics we have covered in this and previous updates by clicking on the links on the right side of the text. Much more detail than I am able to include here can be found on each of those sites.





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