Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Day 36 - Flagstaff, AZ to Picacho Peak, AZ

Today we said good bye to Flagstaff and headed for Picacho Peak, AZ which is between Phoenix and Tuscon.  We wanted to stay at some more state parks so this seemed like a good choice.  The morning was sunny and cool in Flagstaff.  What air there was to breathe was sullied by diesel fumes from the 3 huge motorhomes that were parked around us getting ready to leave.  I'm not sure why they need to idle their engines for so long.  One of the couples was from Gray, ME!  Again I say, it is a small world.  Yesterday we noticed a lot of smoke in the air near the campground and today this is what greeted us as we got onto I17 headed south.  The forest service does controlled burns periodically and this is the result of one.  We did hear a notification on the radio this morning so were prepared but totally missed it yesterday and were wondering if we'd have to move the camper.  The smoke was fairly thick for a few miles but then we were back to good conditions.
I will miss seeing the Ponderosa pine forests around Flagstaff.  Once we got down to about 6000 feet they were gone.  Being from Maine and living at about 60 feet elevation, it seems funny to talk about descending to 6000 feet.  We are at about 2000 feet now and the breathing is much easier. 
I have two wildlife spottings to report.  The first was a badger.  I didn't even know that Arizona had badgers and thought maybe what I had seen was a raccoon but badger existence in AZ was confirmed.  Unfortunately the big guy was road kill.  The second sighting was a quite large black bear who was also unfortunately very dead in the median of I17 South.  There were two forest service employees standing by him.  I suppose they were trying to figure out what to do with it.  I presume it had been hit by a car. 
Today's drive is mostly about the scenery and how it changed as the elevation changed.  We are coming down off the Mogollon Rim which is a topographic feature that runs across Arizona.  The Rim is practically bisected by I17.  The Rim is an escarpment that defines the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau.  Here we have gone below 6000 feet and the juniper trees are starting to appear again.
Here is a panoramic view that I took at Sunset Vista rest stop.  It gives a great idea of the terrain starting at about 5000 feet.  The mountains in the distance will be dealt with as we head further south.  I17 makes no mistake about the terrain it traverses.  The signs read "Road Has Curves and Mountain Grades".  They weren't kidding.

We passed through Bloody Basin which is an area where in 1873 army scouts captured or killed nearly all of a band of Apache Indians.  We also went by Bumble Bee.  This is a ghost town that was a stagecoach stop and an outpost for the U.S. Cavalry.  Bumble Bee, Arizona and the nearby creek were given its name in 1870 when a Nevada former slave owner, J.X. Theut, first spotted the water source that saved his life. It is at this creek that Theut ran into the legendary drunk named K. Billingsley Callaway. Legend holds that Theut, known for being notoriously swift on his feet, came to the conclusion of tossing a rock at a bee hive which rested 2 feet from the maniac Billingsley Callaway. Theut tossed the pebble and the bees attacked Billingsley. Billingsley, being allergic to bees fell ill and crawled away back into his cave. Nobody has seen either man since.

I love learning how places got their names!

 At 3000 feet we spotted our first Saguaro forest. 
At 2000 feet we spotted Phoenix.  Thank you to whoever designed the sound barricades along I10.  Your artwork is a lot nicer than all those blank concrete things that usually get put up along the highway.  We have been to Phoenix several times when Lowell was going to ASU.  We didn't feel the need to stop again.  Phoenix does bring out the billboards.  I saw my first The Tutu Project billboard which I loved.  It is a fund raising effort for women with breast cancer and features photos of a man in a pink tutu in various settings.  Another billboard that caught my eye said "Depressed?  Jesus will help.".

These pictures are from our campsite at Picacho Peak.  It is a desert campground with huge campsites featuring desert terrain (surprise!).  There is electricity which is nice.  Only one loop is open right now and there might be 8 other people here.  It is very quiet and just wonderful.  Brett is sitting outside now in the pitch dark (with a watchful ear for rattlesnakes) watching the Milky Way and I am going to go join him.

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