Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘desert’

Willcox, Arizona “Where the Spirit of the West Begins”

Dragoon Mountain Valley

Dragoon Mountain Valley

After a long, slow trip through the mountains, the town of Willcox, Arizona seemed like an oasis in the desert. Situated in a valley surrounded by the Dragoon Mountains, Willcox is the perfect place to stretch your legs on a walk through their beautiful town and even give yourself a tasty treat.

The town has been around since 1880, but at that time it was known as Maley, a whistlestop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was named Willcox years later after General Orlando Willcox, who arrived on the first train to stop there. Today that railroad heritage plays a big role in the town’s celebrations.

Rex Allen Museum

Rex Allen Museum on Railroad Street

The town is especially famous for country western signer, Rex Allen, whose statue and museum are highlights there. Rex Allen really was a cowboy, and became the last of the singing cowboys of movie fame. The Rex Allen “Arizona Cowboy” Museum holds memorabilia of  his rodeo, record, movie and television activities. This hero of the wildwest always wore a white Stetson hat while joking around with his sidekick played by Buddy Ebsen and later Slim Pickens. The Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame is also located inside the museum.

Rex Allen Statue

Rex Allen Statue

Rex Allen’s statue across the road has hidden meaning. Inside that statue is a bronze heart complete with arteries symbolizing that Rex Allen’s heart will always remain in the Willcox area. At the foot of his statue, the ashes of Rex’s horse, Koko, are buried, while Rex’s ashes were scattered around the base of the statue. Koko was billed as “the most beautiful horse in the world” after appearing in 30 movies with Rex Allen. They traveled together over a half million miles in the US and Canada. So it is fitting that Koko rest nearby in the green grass of Horse Heaven.

Stop by Willcox Commercial, the oldest continually operating store in Arizona. Having been in operation since 1880, one of its earlier customers was Geronima, who had a sweet tooth and often stopped by for a pound of sugar. Rex Allen and Tanya Tucker, who also grew up in Willcox, shopped here as well.

Old Chestnut Tree in Park

Old Chinese Elm Tree in Railroad Park

Two giant Chinese Elm trees stand in the vicinity of Rex Allen’s statue. These trees were planted back in 1928 when dirt was brought in to fill in a spot where water gathered every time it rained. They became the center piece of Willcox’s first city park – now called Railroad Park. A friend in New Mexico uses this small park area as a relaxation stop in their travels. Sitting under one of these giant trees while peering up through their branches at the great open sky, gives one a peaceful feeling.

Motherload Antiques and Espresso

Motherlode Antiques and Espresso

Down the street is an interesting Motherlode Antique Shop with Espresso and many fine treats. This was the perfect place to sit out on the porch and visit with the locals while enjoying ice cream and cookies.  Right next door is The Dining Car where you can get some delicious Big Tex BBQ. Everyone was very friendly and offered suggestions of places to visit in the area…and no one seemed in a hurry.

Roses line City Hall on Railroad Street

Roses line City Hall on Railroad Street

The Willcox Town Hall, a former Southern Pacific Railroad Station, features a block long row of beautiful rosebushes that make a stroll along Railroad Avenue a scenic, scented adventure. This is a great place to take a walk after that delicious ice cream cone.  In Willcox, you definitely want to take time to smell the roses.

Willcox is located in southeastern Arizona just off I-10 between Bowie and Benson. Take the West Airport Exit and enjoy the spirit of the west that still exists there today.


Chiricahua Desert Museum Educational Oasis in the Desert

New Mexico Desert Museum

New Mexico Desert Museum

In the middle of nowhere, or at least it seems, you will find an unexpected gem – a desert museum operated by people who enjoy being away from the crowds.  Here in the small town of  Rodeo, New Mexico, The Chiricahua Desert Museum found a home. The idea began as recently as 2006 and opened for visitors in 2009 when my first visit occurred. The Chiricahua Desert Museum has made major improvements since that time and during this recent visit has added many educational programs as well.

Tile Gila Monster at Museum Entrance

Tile Gila Monster at Museum Entrance

The museum sits in the middle of the desert between the Chiricahua Mountains and the Peloncilos. Here in the southwestern corner of New Mexico, the border of Arizona is only across the road. Desert plants, rocks and sand create a beautiful entrance way to the museum as you walk over a large tile design of a gila monster, a heavy, slow-moving, venomous lizard.  Mountains make a beautiful backdrop, especially as you enter the Botanical Garden.

Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

This corner of their large Botanical Garden is a place to relax and learn about the plants of the desert. Besides the plants, there are beautiful statues as well as a small pond. Here you might see a box turtle or lizard… if it isn’t too hot.

Dancing on a Dwarf Statue

Dancing on a Dwarf Statue

The museum itself contains many items found in the desert and beyond.  There is a large collection of arrowheads and pieces of pottery found in the area.  If enough pieces were found, they have been reassembled into beautiful vases and bowls. A collection of liquor bottles all contained the names of reptiles, such as: Blue Tongue Premium Lager, Granny’s Turtle Juice, Python Ale, or Mojave Red Premium Lager. A large bronze statue, Dancing on a Dwarf, was a centerpiece of the main museum. Wildlife artist, Tell Hicks, displays many of his paintings at the museum and his prints are favorites of those who visit. Often Tell sets up his easel at the museum so visitors can watch him create another amazing desert scene.

An interesting new addition is the state-of-the-art Reptile Exhibit.  Here you will find over 60 rare species enclosed in glass cases, but well and alive! Rattlesnakes and rock lizards are popular features as well as rat snakes and mud turtles. Personally, it was a relief that they were enclosed in glass!

Before leaving, check out the excellent gift shop with an outstanding selection of books and upscale souvenirs.  Beautiful turquoise and Indian style jewelry is on display and for sale at fairly reasonable prices. You can also find many good books and great artwork. This is not your ordinary gift shop, but quite superior with unusual treasures to view or purchase.

New Mexico 067Afterwards, lunch at the Rodeo Cafe was a real treat before heading to the Chiricahua Mountains through the small town of Portal, where neo-tropical birds hang out – a bird watcher’s paradise. The dirt road into the Chiricahuas and the Coronado National Monument was a spectacular, yet slow, two hour drive.  Billy the Kid was said to have a ranch here during his outlaw days.  What a great place to hide a herd of rustled cattle!

The Chiricahua Desert Museum is located in Rodeo, New Mexico in the Southwest corner of the state very near the border of Arizona.  From I-10, take Exit 5 South on NM 80. After about 30 miles of beautiful desert scenery, you will arrive in Rodeo. The Chiricahua Desert Museum sits on the left side of the road just a couple miles east of Portal, Arizona.

Biosphere 2 – Earth Under Glass

Biosphere 2Want to see a rainforest and ocean in the desert? Time to  head to the barren desert hills of Arizona, or should I say mountains! Located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Oracle, Arizona, Biosphere 2‘s striking white outline and unusually shaped, futuristic buildings catch the eye. Recently named one of the top fifty “Wonders of the World”, which must be seen, this is an informative stop.

Biosphere is defined as: the regions of the Earth’s crust and atmosphere occupied by living matter. Therefore, it seemed fitting to name this man-made earth model Biosphere 2. Here is the world’s largest glass covered ecological laboratory located on forty acres. Back in 1984, Edward Bass, an environmentalist, contributed $150 million to build John Allen’s invention – Biosphere 2.

Originally built to experiment with self-contained settlement, those first eight ecologists, four men and four women,  signed up for a two year term, then sealed themselves away.  They began raising their own food and recycling air and water. Their goal was to be able to sustain all their needs from the five different ecological regions that were located inside the domes. These early designers were interested in space colonization and were looking for a way to build a similar system on Mars or perhaps the Moon.

The experiment, however, basically failed after almost two years due to the build up of noxious gases, and lack of oxygen.  While some of the four thousand species survived,  water and crops failed. However, much was learned scientifically as well as socially where disagreements caused lack of co-operation.  Columbia University operated it up until just recently, but today it is maintained and used for experimentation by the University of Arizona.

Biosphere 2 RainforestNot only is it an experiment station, but also a unique spot where visitors can view, on an inside tour, five different ecosystems: rainforest, grasslands,  desert, wetlands and ocean floor.  The rainforest is the largest and tallest biome represented.  It contains a number of different habitats, including a lowland forest, a flood plain, and a cloud forest on top of a sandstone mountain.

Savanna Grasslands is naturally dominated by various types of grasses, but there is a quartzite slope in the area where the stream waterfall is located. The Thornscrub section is the wilderness area. Most of the plants in this region are from the Sonoran area. Vegetation consists mainly of short trees and shrubs with many of them being thorny.

Biosphere 2 DesertThe desert biome has over 125 species of plants and was originally designed to replicate a coastal fog desert such as those found along the western coasts of Baja, California.  This allows the Biosphere 2 desert to co-exist with the other, more moist biomes.

The Marsh biome begins with a fresh water lake with a transitional marsh leading to the Mangrove wetlands.  Here over five hundred large mangrove trees dominate the wetlands, which is colonized by many marsh creatures such as crawfish, snails, sponges, and shrimp.

Biosphere 2 OceanThe ocean biome, designed to simulate a Caribbean reef, contains a coral reef and over one million gallons of salt water. A forty foot cliff overlooks the tropical ocean where waves, temperature and chemical balance are all carefully monitored and controlled by innovative technology. This allows scientists to conduct groundbreaking research. But the ocean biome is very efficient at recycling nutrients, so mainly mechanical means will be used in the future to attempt to control the environment here.

Today their largest project is the Landscape Evolution Observatory where they     are exploring the secrets of earth’s landscape and how it changes due to climate and water movement, as well as modifications through biological systems. Edward Bass continues to be a major supporter and last year donated another $20 million to support operations and research. This is the premiere place for learning about Earth and its place in the Universe…now and in the future. Biosphere 2 is where science lives.

Getting there depends on where you are beginning! If you are in Phoenix, find your way to Biosphere 2 off I-35 exit 185. Continue East of 187 toward Florence where you will turn right or south on Arizona 79.  Turn left on Arizona 77 until you arrive at Oriocle Junction where you turn left on Biosphere Road.  If you are in Tucson, take Arizona 77 north about 24 miles.

Franklin Park Conservatory Botanical Gardens

Ah!  The beautiful fragrance as you approach the entrance to the Botanical Gardens.  It welcomes you to a day of relaxation and education.

At this time beautiful blown glass pieces by Dale Chihuly are the special exhibit.  So it is no surprise that when you enter the building there is a video of Chihuly showing many of his creations and techniques.  Since there are many gardens to see, after a few minutes we tear ourselves away from this interesting story.  Since my Dad was a glass blower, this was especially interesting to me.

Admission to the gardens is a very reasonable price, especially for seniors at $9 and free parking close to the entrance.  Would be an excellent place to have a membership if you lived in the area as they have interesting events and displays throughout the year.

Exhibits ranged from tropical plants to those of the desert.  For a person who enjoys plants, this is a perfect spot to spend a day or several days.  Waterfalls, rocks, and small pools made you feel that you were actually there. The tropical plants held a special interest to me on this day as they took me away to a different location in our world without leaving Ohio! Strategically placed blown glass bubbles and balls added to the beauty of the exhibits.

Overhead the skylights were filled with glass pieces designed by Chihuly. So you needed to keep on your toes not to miss another beautiful scene either around the bend, at your side, or overhead.

One of the busiest places was the butterfly exhibit in the tropical foliage and flowers of the Blooms & Butterflies Center. After you watched the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, you could then see them released in the Pacific Island Water Garden.  This was a place of much excitement as the guide took them out one by one at first and let the children hold them.  They all had their fingers stretched out for a butterfly! The child in me got to hold one as well.

Checking out the gift shop finished our day there.  Had to buy a plant to take home as a memory of a day of exploring the Franklin Park Conservatory.  This is a place for a return trip especially during a different season of the year.  Wish I lived closer!

Desolate New Mexico Highway

Appearances can be deceptive as Route 9 across the bottom of New Mexico seems to be a desolate stretch of nearly one hundred miles.  But upon closer observation, the beautiful desert scenery holds many interesting experiences especially since it is just three miles to the Mexican border.  This road is not as lonely as it first appears.

As we leave Columbus, NM and Pancho Villa State Park, the desert is filled with low growing plants and the roadway is lined with the burnt orange blossoms of the Indian Paint Brush. You might even notice a Mexican here or there hiding behind one of the mesquite bushes.

One industrious rancher added an artistic touch to this desert road. They have piled up rocks in various formations and painted them in brilliant colors to add a little interest to the lonely road. A bright yellow cross catches your eye.

Listen! Overhead you hear a Border Patrol helicopter watching for illegals crossing the border. It sounds like it is getting closer. Hope they aren’t after us! This is a new and interesting landing as they are right behind us and landing in the road. Let’s keep on going but watch behind as the Border Patrol gets out and heads to the desert on foot. Something or someone close must have been spotted from above.

Cows roam across the road as we travel on since this is Open Range territory. You will notice the absence of fences replaced by cattle guards.

Ahead a man is standing in the road beside his truck and trailer and waving his arms. Let’s slow down and see what he needs. We can see that he is dressed casually with sandals, shorts and tee shirt and he has a long white beard and ponytail. A flat tire seems to be his problem. Since there is no cell phone service in this area, he asks if we will call 911 in the next town about forty miles away and have asssistance sent.

“How about a ride?” we ask.

“No way,” he replies. “My motorcycle is in the trailer behind and I can’t leave it here unguarded.”

Just then the Border Patrol appears in their SUV and as usual give needed assistance. While the illegals try to hide from them, the Border Patrol is a real safety net for those traveling the area. As we pull away, notice the lettering on the back of his trailer: All Who Wander Are Not Lost. That has always been one of my favorite sayings!

Up ahead you see a small town called Hachita located between the Big Hatchet and Little Hatchet Mountain ranges. There is a gas pump here and a small store for essentials. If you want to get away from it all or hide away, this would be the perfect place!

Many think this is a lonely road, but as you can see it is never boring.

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