Karen and I left Yreka, CA. on a Friday evening after work. We intended to head to Northern Arizona to a friend’s place in Cottonwood, then on to the wonderful New Mexico Bootheel country consisting of the Peloncillos Mountains and the Animas Valley.
To me this area borders on mystical. Wonderful views of the desert and some of the last truly native grasslands, along with relatively lush, conifer filled high country where you seldom see anyone but the Border Patrol are all things that make the area special to me. Adding to that is the fact that it’s also part of the setting for Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Crossing. Traveling to settings that have resonated with me through great works of fiction is one of the great simple pleasures of life I’ve always thought. It adds so much to you enjoyment of the place.
So the first night we made it to the Walmart parking lot in Susanville. Very cold, and somebody thought he’d left the furnace on a low setting but instead had left it off. Finally warmed up with a nice breakfast we continued on our way through the Nevada desert to Las Vegas and across Hoover dam where we stopped for a short hike. Somewhere down Interstate 40, we could no longer deny that Karen was coming down with something (probably made worse by my dopey mistake of not turning on the furnace), so we decided to detour north to the Grand Canyon to rest for a few days.
I was very surprised to find they allow dogs on the Rim Trail, so we saddled up for a not too strenuous hike:
it was hot enough for the puppies to find the little shade available
So after 3 days there filled with short walks and a lot of relaxing around a very pretty campsite, we headed south to Cottonwood for a visit with my friend. Then on to the Bootheel.
It was kind of overcast as we entered the valley between the Peloncillos and the Chiricahuas. Here’s a picture from an earlier trip took there, showing the great view after you crest a small hill on lonely New Mexico 80:
This valley is home to my favorite RV park on the planet, Rusty’s RV Ranch. It has reasonable prices, large sites, some with trees and patios, and some of the nicest folks you can meet that run the place. It has never been crowded in the 3 times I’ve been there and has some awesome views:
Karen was still recovering, so we decided some more R&R was in order:
We spent a couple of days like this, reading, relaxing, glassing some of the many brightly colored birds in the area (it’s famous for birders, as is the nearby Cave Creek area near Portal AZ). I kept trying to get a picture of this beautiful yellow breasted Oriole, but couldn’t. These are some of the best times in truck camper travel, hanging around a remote campground with the spectacular natural world all around, drawing off the accumulated poisons that modern living supplies. There’s really bad cell phone coverage at Rusty’s too! Yayyyy!
Well with some strength restored, we headed out for a little exploration of the mystical Peloncillos. Very soon after you head south from the little town of Animas, NM (the site of a great breakfast spot called The Panther Tracks Café, highly recommended) you catch site of the Animas Peak:
Here’s a pic from an earlier trip of a sign you see as soon as you get into the Peloncillos:
We took a hike up around the Geronimo Tank area in the Peloncillos.
We saw these really small little barrel cactus. They were quite amazing to us because they were so small, maybe only an inch tall. Those are blades of grass next to them.
From a little rise near Geronimo Tank showing how lush the area really is, set in the middle of the very harsh desert.
On the way back we saw another pretty amazing site. We drove by a herd of 4 or 5 antelope grazing on the grasses. They didn’t seem very alarmed by us but then started a leisurely walk, All of a sudden, one of them decided to kick in the after burners and took off and was immediately racing at a high speed. One of the other guys apparently took this as a challenge and decided to chase him. So we got to witness this high speed chase as the two of them raced and turned and turned again, evidentially celebrating this beautiful Spring day. It was a sight we won’t ever forget. Here they are before the race started:
On another day we took a hike up the South Fork of Cave Creek:
A stop to cool our feet:
we saw this little guy munching on prickly pear on the drive out:
Finally it was time to head back north. We decided to go by way of Nogales, Arizona to try out a restaurant recommended by Jim Harrison, the novelist. More about that in a second. On the way we stopped at the monument to Geronimo’s surrender south of Rodeo NM.
Then we got to Bisbee, AZ, site of a once thriving open pit copper mine. The damage to the countryside makes the mind reel, but then again, the country really needed the copper as a plaque near the awesome site explains. It was sure ugly though:
We stopped in the town where Jim Harrison, one of my heroes, makes his winter home, Patagonia, AZ and spent a pleasant afternoon relaxing in our recliners in a park they have right in the middle of town.
Then we were off to Nogales, to the restaurant they call Las Vigas. In his essay Harrison talks about a dish called Machaca. It’s beef cooked for 2 days and rubbed with chili peppers. After finding the place , pretty close to the Mexican border, we were not disappointed. The flavor of the Machaca was so full and savory that I really can’t describe it, but it was amazing. I rank this place up with the BBQ place I’ve described in Luling Texas as one of the few superlative experiences I’ve had in my camper travels.
So then it was non-stop driving back to the SF Bay Area. Home sweet home. Thanks for looking at our trip!
* This post was
edited 04/30/12 12:48pm by dpgerson *
2004 Alpenlite Sante Fe 11.5 with slideout
2006 F350 V10 with camper package and air bags
Thank you for this expansive trip report! It really made my day this rainy morning here in the Northeast.
I've been birding for some time, and often find that making a photo of a particularly difficult to capture bird is nary impossible. So, I always carry a portable digital audio recorder, and record its call.