Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Arizona - A zone of its own - Spring road trip 2017

A crested saguaro in Green River, AZ, represents a fraction of the beautiful desert flora typical of the area. Magnificent Saguaro National Park is nearby and so is the not-to-be-missed Tucson Sonora Desert Museum. We've visited Arizona, and other desert regions, maybe a dozen times over the years. I've become fond of the sun-drenched red and gold cacti-studded landscapes, and there's no matching a desert in bloom. 

Growing up in North Dakota and then spending most of the rest of my life in Oregon, I've come to think of Arizona as the place people go when they get old and just want to be warm. Not necessarily the place they actually call home, but where a person can set up a lounge chair by the pool in November, and  relax until late March when the trees up north are beginning to  bud. Then they jump into their rigs and go home.

Why is it I never thought of doing this annual migration myself? Or, rather, why haven't We  - PK, my mate of 40 years -  and I considered being snowbirds?

It's no secret that Oregon is sad and sodden three to five months a year. Depending upon your tolerance for cold, rainy gray days, or the calibre of what you have to do with your time indoors, I'm surprised anybody who's retired and solvent stays in a miserable climate for months at a time. Why not head south?

I am not forgetting, of course, the wonderous road trips we've enjoyed off and on since 2010, which in the past couple years, have become longer in mileage and months. But as with our most recent trip, we're not exactly escaping winter. We left home in early March and returned in mid-April.

Bye bye to prehistoric ocotillos in Joshua Tree National Park.
After leaving Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, our first day in Arizona was spent driving Interstate 10 until we took a right turn south on highway 85 en route to Tucson. Interstate 10 was busy busy busy.  Not a relaxing drive at all. Much of it was lined by bushes covered with bright yellow flowers. Pollen tinged  the air and collected on the windshield. I am thankful not to have allergies.

We stayed in a drab but clean and huge RV Park in Gila Bend.  It was 3/4  empty because most winter residents had disconnected from the plumbing and electricity and were headed north.

Earlier in the day, we'd passed Quartzite, which we learned is a magnet for RVing snowbirds. A load of commercial RV parks dot the area, but the main attraction appears to be free or low-cost camping (boondocking) on BLM lands. This link describes the  temporary communities and the colorful stores and rock and gem shows and other fun stuff that come and go each winter with the adventurous RV crowd.

Somehow I'd pictured Arizona snowbirds living in upscale planned communities, but I get it about not wanting to tie down to a particular place. We met RVers all over the SW and Texas who winter in the south and relocate seasonally. A few we met were selling their wares, following the crowds from festival to festival, gem show to gem show. Some return north for the summer to live in stick homes. Others just live in their RVs, wherever that may take them.

We're not ready to do this yet, apparently. We're tied to home for a number of reasons not the least of which are friendships that span decades and a still-too-ambitious garden.  But I have to admit that during our spring 2017 road trip, I  dared to consider, for the first time, relocating south, even imagining, if just for a nanosecond, living in a planned retirement community. Based on reports from friends who've made the big move, it's not a bad idea.

PK's thought? Not a bad idea? A terrible idea!

Lenny and Dusty Friedman influencing me
about the benefits of retirement communities.
Their smiles say it all.
He may have softened a bit when we visited friends in Green Valley, AZ, a popular perch for snowbirds, whether they migrate back north or not. Our friends, the Friedmans, no longer migrate.

They used to live (and garden) a few miles from us in Southern Oregon, but moved to AZ full-time in 2016. They worked hard on behalf of our community. Our loss, Green Valley's gain.

Lenny, who'd been an entrepreneur, a middle school teacher, and a community volunteer/activist, among other roles, says that for years he doubted his ability or desire to live in a planned community.

I wouldn't be writing this if he didn't now love it. He and Dusty are totally adapted to and happy with this new phase of their life.
The Friedmans enjoyed showing us around. This is part of the wider community's raised-bed garden, park, picnic area and playground. A picnic area is behind the closed door. The park is not included in their retirement community, but is nearby and they like going there. Lenny's talents include building labyrinths, and he's working on one adjacent to this little park. 
PK joins the Friedmans in another labyrinth Lenny is completing, this one near a vast planned community under construction not far from where they live. Most labyrinths are contemplative spaces for walking meditation. I wonder if PK is meditating on spending winters in the south?
We were sad to leave the Friedman's after only one night, but were happy to be headed to a little town I've always wanted to see - Bisbee, AZ.
Bisbee has a hyperactive Chamber of Commerce, but this claim may be true. At 5,538 feet elevation, it escapes the worst of the scorching summer temperatures typical of southern Arizona. With a population of around 6,000, Sunset magazine and USA Today both named it the country's Best Historic Town in 2016. Bisbee attracted a wave of counterculture types in the 1960s and that element still enlivens the town. 
Here we are later in the trip, me decked out in my new
favorite shirt, purchased from a street vendor in Bisbee.
The "free store" in Bisbee didn't have much to offer, but it's the thought that counts, right? Definitely a hold-over from Bisbee's hippie past. 
The heart of Bisbee, AZ, as seen from the Queen Mine RV Park, which is a five-minute walk from the historic downtown. I loved Bisbee, how it's all stacked up on steep hills, full of artists, artisans, tourists, music, quirkiness, and New Age vibes. It thrives on its mining history, and a tour of the Queen Mine is the #1 thing to do, according to TripAdvisor. (We loved the mine tour.) We spent a day and a night in Bisbee, but we could have used a couple more days. Lucky for us, we visited on a Saturday night when the downtown was jumping with live music. I got a big-time dance fix at St.Elmo's bar. PK was ready to leave before I was, and walking back alone after midnight felt safe. And happy! Bisbee has also been named in an AARP publication as one of the most "alive" towns in which to retire. I wouldn't mind spending a winter there.

Dang it! The Day the FBI came calling post is still in the works. 

Earlier posts - Spring Road Trip 2017

Joshua Tree National Park  

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