We arrived at our fall and early winter destination on Wednesday, October 31. To say we were excited would be an understatement. For those of you who have followed us along our journey, you know that I frequently compare campgrounds to Apache Flats at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and to Eagle Hammock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. So, to be back at one of our standard bearers was just great.
Connie and I first came to Fort Huachuca in December of 2000 as we were transiting from Burke, Virginia, to San Diego, California. We immediately fell in love with not just the facility but also the entire area of Sierra Vista and Cochise County, Arizona. During our two year tour in San Diego we made another couple of trips to this high desert paradise, but we were never able to stay as long as we would have liked. This visit will be for three months and we intend to make the best of our time.
When we were last here the park did not offer WiFi, so we were happy to learn at check-in that limited WiFi is now available. Such as is the case at Kings Bay, the closer you are to the community center the better your chances of getting a good signal in your motorhome. So, when Sharon, the park manager, told us we would be in space 47 we groaned a little because we really wanted in-house WiFi. Sharon told us we should look at the site before we made any rash decisions. As it turns out, site 47 is located in the very last row and we would be facing the mountains with an unobstructed view across the desert. Well, WiFi became a little less important once we saw the view. These first photos are examples of what we have to put up with as we look out our front window. We were so thrilled with the view we decided to not put up our café curtains or our privacy screens. After all, since we are in the last row there would be no one looking in from another coach.
Looking out our front window across the desert to the mountains
Looking over the air field to the mountains on the other side of the desert
Looking out our front window at the moonrise after the Christmas decorations were up
A not so great look at one of the local great horned owls
I have tried with varying degrees of success to capture the wonderful pastel colors that the mountains reflect given the appropriate atmospheric conditions. I will continue to refine my technique until I get it right.
We spent the first several days getting reacquainted with the area. We were surprised at how much growth has taken place since we were last here in the spring of 2003. We made sure we sampled as many of the local dining establishments as we could so we would be ready for the arrival of friends later in our stay. What we had remembered about the rather sparse density of any restaurants much less really good restaurants became apparent early on. However, on a positive note we soon learned that a couple can dine out for a lot less money here than most anywhere else we have spent significant amounts of time. And although the area is sort of an ambiance free zone, the food is really quite good. There will likely be more discussions about our dining as time goes on.
For our one week anniversary we decided to take a hike up one of the many canyons that populate the Huachuca Mountains. Since a major portion of the mountain is on the Army post, we found that we could hike several canyon trails without leaving the post. Now, as is the case in most marriages, Connie and I had a bit of a different idea of what sort of a hike we were going on. Connie’s vision was that we pack a lunch, drive to the Garden Canyon picnic area, hike around for a short while and then have lunch at the picnic area before returning to the RV park. I somehow got it in my mind that we were going to make a “hike” out of it. I packed the lunches in a day pack and made sure we had plenty of water as well as my trusty camera and hand held GPS so I could accurately measure our hike as well as preserve the track on a topographical map. Neither of us said anything to the other about the apparent difference in our personal expectations. In my defense I did not feel out of synch as Connie was dressed for a real hike including a hip pack with bird books and water. So, off to Garden Canyon we go. We initially drove passed the picnic area to see how far up the road we could go. We were disappointed to find a gate closed just above the parking area and well short of the trail head up Scheelite Canyon. So, we went back to the picnic area to park the car. Mistake number two in thought process occurred shortly after we got out of the car and had all our gear on and were pretty much ready to go with the exception that we had been distracted by some bird activity in the immediate vicinity. While we admired the birds we heard cars coming up the road and continuing on up Garden Canyon to the same place we had just come from due to the barricade. However, none of these cars came back indicating that the road was closed. Connie even asked me if I thought we should move the car closer to the trail head. Of course I said no, too much hassle. Again, in my defense I didn’t know exactly where the trail head was. I did know that it was not very far to the barricade and not too much further up the road was another picnic area. I presumed the trail head was in the vicinity of that picnic area. I would soon learn how wrong I was.
So, off we went walking along the road stopping frequently to look at birds and examine this or that. Some two miles later we finally arrive at the trail head. About the only thing we really knew about this trail was that it is steep and that it is a good trail to bird from. Connie and I have hiked many a trail in our lives and in general we have come to expect far worse than what the trail guides or warning signs say about the difficulty of a given trail. We quickly earned a great deal of respect for Scheelite Canyon Trail. The first fifty feet or so were a cake walk. After that we got to do a whole lot of real work. Don’t get me wrong, we are not talking technical climbing with ropes and all the other associated gear. We were faced with a trail that was super steep and the footing was iffy at very best. Birding on the move was virtually impossible as we were generally breathing so hard about all we could hear was our breathing and our heartbeats. Did I mention that the trail head was at about 5600 feet and were to have gone all the way to the top we would have gotten to something just under 8000 feet. As it was we turned around at 6974 feet above sea level. Although we had been here a week, we were not yet acclimated to the elevation. So, as you can imagine we took frequent short breaks to catch our breath, slow our hear t rates and listen and watch for birds. Oh, I also took a few pictures along the way. Originally there were something like 76 clicks of the shutter, but I quickly culled the really bad ones to give me a more manageable number to store. The colors on the mountain we changing and I was able to get some pretty good photos capturing the transitional beauty of the canyon. I hope you enjoy these images as much as we did in person.
My goal was to get to the top of the canyon. However with the wasted two miles on the front end and the knowledge that those same two miles had to be repeated in order to return to the car, I reluctantly agreed with Connie and we turned around short of the goal. Our little lunch hike wound up being a whopping 8.14 miles long. At least one of us thought it was a forced march. Although we were exhausted by the time we returned to the car, we did have a great time and we saw things we could see no other way. I would truly like to make the entire hike some day, but I doubt I will convince my bride that it is worth the effort even if we were to park at the trail head and therefore save ourselves four miles. Those were the easiest miles of the hike. That portion of the hike we have yet to complete is probably the steepest. Regardless, I have been working out on a Stairmaster once in awhile since that hike as well as doing a lot of running to improve my strength and stamina for these mountain trails.
I try to make Connie’s birthday celebration memorable each year. I was handicapped this year by our location. As stated earlier we are in what I call an ambiance free zone when it comes to restaurants. I visited the campground manager in search for an appropriate place to celebrate a birthday. She wasn’t of much help as there are very few options available. To make a long story short, I finally decided on a restaurant that I was unable to find while trying to drive to it. Therefore, we went to a good restaurant we had visited the last time we were here. The food was fine, but there was the issue of ZERO ambiance. Memorable? We will have to see whether either of us remembers where we ate next year at this time. By the way, on the way home we found the other restaurant. So, we decided to save that one for my birthday. Next post should have a report.
We are here in Southeast Arizona for a lot of reasons. Probably the strongest draw for us is the birding opportunities that abound. As I mentioned, our campsite affords us a great view of the dessert that borders the campground so we have used the motorhome as a blind and have thoroughly enjoyed watching the activity in our “front yard”. Of course not all the birds that winter in the area are going to come to us, so out we must go to see what is around. We took a bird walk with the Huachuca Audubon Society one Sunday. We walked along the San Pedro River and had a pretty productive day. We also walked up the road from the RV park to find one of the post’s resident Great Horned Owls. We found him on our first attempt. My photos are not too good, so I will have to try again before sharing. We have seen some Mexican birds in the area as well. On our little hike up Scheelite Canyon we saw several Mexican Jays which seem to be expanding their range into the United States. I am not sure if they are properly documented or if they lack their green cards. On our bird walk we saw Mexican Mallards; sort of different from the regular ones.
We have not found it necessary to hurry up and do anything since we arrived here. That has really made life comfortable. We sometimes decide that the highlight of the day will be to do the laundry. We are not compelled to run around trying to get everything done at once. We will likely miss something with this attitude, but who cares. We are enjoying the slower pace of things.
If you have followed this Blog long, you know that we take pretty good care of our motorhome. We have to as it is our home. We were awakened one morning just before dawn by what sounded like someone or something moving plastic across plastic or concrete. We discussed what it may be and then just dismissed it as something outside. After all, there are tons of critters that make Fort Huachuca their home. Later, I walked around the motorhome and found nothing out of the ordinary and nothing disturbed. Although I did not conduct a search of the basement compartments, I was in and out of them several times over the next several days and saw nothing out of place. I had pretty much forgotten about the noise when we heard something one evening just before dusk. Again we looked around and scratched our heads having found nothing to explain what we had heard.
The next morning we saw a javelina walk out of the mesquite and along the road. Connie and I immediately decided that we had now seen our visitor. We were much relieved as javelinas are too big to get into the unopened basement area. A few more days went by and Connie and I were decorating the motorhome for Christmas. We had left most of our decorations in Florida, but I remembered putting some sofa pillows in a big zip lock bag and storing them in the basement just weeks before we left. So, I got my trusty flashlight and went on the search. As I moved things around in the basement I was surprised to find cat sized droppings on a platform I had built to hold winter shoes. Like any good man, I crawled out of the basement and immediately reported to Connie that we had a problem.
Obviously, the problem was that the javelina was not who we had heard and we did in fact have something living in our basement. The first thing we wanted to do was clean-up the droppings. So, armed with gloves and a paper towel I picked the stuff up and tossed it out. Then I saw what looked like really fresh droppings near where I had seen the original pile. Now I was really getting concerned. So, we went around the coach opening all the access doors. As I opened the forward most door on the left side I saw our guest hiding between a stanchion and the next door back. It was a skunk! When we decided to open all the doors, we also decided that one of us had to be on either side of the motorhome at all times so we could see if whatever was there made an escape. Connie was positioned on the right side, but not in position to see through to the other side. So, I told her to trade places with me since I knew where the skunk was. As I approached the open doors on the right side I thought I saw movement well aft of where I saw the critter. I concentrated my vision on that spot where I had seen the skunk, but alas he was gone. I then suspected he had gone to the area where the droppings had been found, but I could not find him. We then rather methodically and of course very carefully began to empty the basement of all the stuff we had stored down there. In the process we found more droppings, but no more skunks.
Of course all this activity did not go unnoticed by our neighbors. Before long we found ourselves explaining our dilemma over and over again to fellow campers as they walked their dogs or just wandered over to find out what was going on. Of course, many of them offered advice, but no one volunteered to stick their head into the basement to help. I think the best was the guy next door. He simply said he had heard what everyone else was saying and he could not think of anything that was sure to work so he just watched from a safe distance.
A few minutes went by before we saw the little alien again. When I did finally find him he was snuggled up in the tank compartment. Prior to that I did not think there was an open passage between the tank bay and the storage bays. Boy was I embarrassed. Several weeks ago we had read a tip in one of the motorhome magazines we subscribe to that talked about how to keep varmints out of your basement area. I had told Connie that we did not need to worry about that because there was nowhere for a critter to go if one got into our dump station area because it was sealed off from the other compartments. Now, I was looking through a passage that is about the size of a softball with a longitudinal space between a cross beam and the back wall of the storage bays that is just over an inch high. How foolish I felt.
The tank compartment runs from one side of the coach to the other. There are some decorative panels on either side that block the view of the tanks and isolate the space from the dump station. Our little friend had taken refuge in this inner space as we had chased him from his comfort area in the storage bays. Now our problem was how to get him to just leave. We were a bit reluctant to be too aggressive as we did not want him to spray the compartment or us. We tried prodding him with the rod that is used to pull down our patio awning. He simply played with the end of that the way a kitten would. Then we tried more forcibly pushing him out with a broom stick. That caused him to disappear to an area where we had no visible much less physical access between the chassis rails on top of the tanks.
By now it was approaching dusk and we were getting cold. The harder it was to see, the more we were likely to surprise the little guy and possibly get sprayed. So, we decided to take all the stuff we had removed from the basement and put it in the car. Then I sealed off the space between the storage bays and the tank bay. Finally, I spread some diatomaceous earth on the ground outside the dump station so I could monitor his hoped for departure by footprints left in the dust. We then closed all doors but the one at the dump station and went inside. I had decided that the dump station was his entrance point based on a couple of clues he had left. First, my box of rubber gloves had been moved and a lot of the gloves scattered about. Second, there was a large enough space between the sewer hose and the hole in the floor of the compartment to allow something as small as a young skunk to get through. Finally, when scared, he went to this part of the basement area to hide.
Later that evening, just prior to going to bed, I took a flashlight tour of the area where I had spread the dust. No joy, as there were no visible tracks. I looked into the nooks and crannies in that compartment but could see nothing. On the opposite side I opened the door and looked in the tank top area where the battery charger is located and there he was deep inside and curled up into a little ball sleeping off the stress of the day. I decided to leave that door open and close the other side.
I should add that as part of my “set up” to monitor his movements I had stuffed a rag between the sewer hose and the hole it passes through. When I got up the next morning I made another tour. The skunk was no longer sleeping near the battery charger and in fact, once again I could find him nowhere. I was able to make out what could have been a couple of tracks in the dust I had spread, but as it turned out I had spread it a bit too deep making it very difficult to read. However, there was a really prominent clue that our friend had exited the area. The rag I had stuffed between the hose and hole had been pulled up through the hole and stuffed in a corner of the floor. I therefore, declared that we were once again only a couple living in the motorhome instead of an uncomfortable threesome. Later that morning I exercised the tip I had read in the magazine and fashioned a varmint proof barrier for the gap between the hose and hole from a device all RVers are familiar with, the sewer hose donut.
Even though I am sure we got the skunk out, I don’t just throw the basement doors open anymore. I sort of open them while standing off to the side and peer in before reaching in. I also check my barriers to make sure they are all in place. Of course, I am constantly on the lookout with both eyes and nose for any presents that may have been left behind. So far so good.
The major lesson learned is that even though we have had no previous issues with uninvited four legged guests and even though we have camped in less developed locations than we are now, we cannot take for granted that we are varmint proof. I will be doing more work to make the coach a bit tighter in order to prevent a recurrence of this event. Another positive that came from pulling most everything out of the basement was that I was able to get rid of some stuff we no longer need. I didn’t drop much weight, but I sure did make getting the patio stuff back in a lot easier. The other positive outcome is that all the neighbors have been examining any small holes that could admit a skunk or other varmint.
Well that is probably enough for now. As preview for future visits to my Blog, I am planning a post that discusses the history of the Army Post. I have started to study the history so I can accurately reflect it on this site, so stay tuned.