We set up camp in a grassland in southern Arizona, inside a national conservation area, Las Cienegas.
For six days we have had no neighbors, no noise, no distractions other than the birds that fly overhead looking for their prey or sound of the wind as it whistles through the grass. About once a day a truck passes by and we go to the window to see if someone has come to stay. We take walks daily, 2-4 hours, and watch the stars and the moon at night as we sit at our campfire.
For the first time on this trip I am feeling isolated, cut off from the pulse of the world. We still have the Internet thanks to our Verizon hotspot and listen to the news each day on NPR. Heck, we even read the New York Times each morning. But my relationship to the headlines has shifted because I have no one but Mark to discuss them with and we already finish each other’s sentences so I won’t find a fresh perspective here.
And so, the impact of the events behind the headlines becomes more distant and I try to embrace my isolation and see what it will bring.
So, what is it like out here in the golden grasslands that are peppered with dark mesquite trees?
We have lots of room, thanks to the millions of acres owned by the government, our federal land. We’ve set up our screen house and I have used it a couple of times to write in. In fact I am sitting here in the late afternoon sun right now.
We bought food five days ago before we arrived here and have been grilling salmon, making vegetarian chili and tuna sandwiches. Tomorrow we are driving to the nearest town for dinner out! We have our food preparation under control, especially the chopping in such a small space. Mark washes the dishes at night because he is better at rationing water than I am. We use about 45 gallons of water every three days, plus several gallons of spring water for drinking.
We share the grasslands with cattle ranchers. Here’s a herd we ran into on a hike.
We plan to stay here another few nights, then visit Bisbee, Arizona, a charming mountain town, before I fly out of here to see friends and family back home.
We parked outside of Tuscon, Arizona for a week in a Tuscon Mountain Park next to Saguaro National Park. It was a friendly place and we concentrated on work, with an occasional hike through the saguaro forest or a side trip into the city for a jazz concert or meal.
On Friday, we headed south and our first stop was a beautiful Spanish colonial mission, San Xavier del Bac.
A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. The current church was completed in 1797 and underwent a massive restoration in the late 1990s.
The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church's interior is filled with amazing original statues and mural paintings like what I saw when I wandered around Central America many years ago.
After that beautiful stop at San Xavier del Bac, we headed south and west to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area where we are parked at one of two dry campgrounds in the lovely grasslands of Arizona. More on that coming up....
We’ve been in the desert of southern Arizona for a week now, driving here via Las Vegas where we took advantage of rock-bottom room rates while steering clear of the casino floor. We did find a few minutes to walk past the Strip's New York New York casino for a reminder of home.
We had left San Francisco on New Year’s Day, looking forward to being re-united with our rig aka “home.” We wanted to get to southern Arizona where we thought we had the best chance of finding warmer temperature. We arrived in Ajo, Arizona on Monday night in a cold driving rain.
The locals say the amount of rain this winter is extraordinary, but we have still found sunny days to explore the traditional-style town square or to roam the desert outside of town.
In Ajo, we joined Mark’s sister, Janis and her husband Jerome, who came down from Anchorage to stay at the Sonoran Desert Conference Center, part of an old school that has been transformed into artists’ apartments with an adjourning conference center that promotes sustainable agriculture, cooking and hosts other events, When not in use by a group, the center rents rooms with a kitchenette to the general public. We parked the rig outside and spent a week exploring the deserts nearby.
The hiking around here is through the desert that expands across into Mexico and is a favored route for migrants and smugglers headed north. (Read more about the border situation here.) The desert floor is rocky and unforeseen gullies have to be scrambled through when they appear in your path. The Ajo Mountains provided the most spectacular views of the desert as well as meandering trails through the canyon that revealed the small flowers, bushes and cacti up close.
Here are some pics:
We hiked two days inside the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where the U.S. Border Patrol maintains a constant surveillance by helicopter, camera and drones.
We did not see any drones but were scrutinized on two occasions by a helicopter that hovered above our heads while they identified us as hikers, not those entering the country illegally from Mexico.
Officials report apprehending more than 70,000 people in Arizona last year, a drop of 25 percent from 2014. The seizure of narcotics fell slightly, with nearly a million pounds seized by border patrol agents in Arizona in 2015. Two national park rangers we met said they found drug smugglers much more often than migrants, whom they jokingly said more often headed south back to Mexico.
As we hiked, it was not hard to imagine the thousands of feet that have passed that way heading north, walking through steep gullies and rocky desert. Janis imagined how troubling it would be to could come across a body of a migrant and I could understand why activists are driven to walk into the desert to leave gallons of water to those who are passing through.
Evidence of the desert traffic is everywhere. We saw black gallon jugs strewn in the desert, old sweatshirts and cloth booties worn to cover up foot tracks. Jerome found a leather wallet with one man’s Mexican ID
. A rusty pink bicycle lay flat beneath a palo verde bush, awaiting a fleeing smuggler or migrant to take advantage of its offerings.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.