The Season for Visitors

Well before we arrived at Fort Huachuca our good friend Trish had decided that she was going to come out from Georgia to visit us in December. She and her significant other, Jay, made reservations to arrive on December 10, and depart early on Saturday, December 15. Trish and Jay stayed at the Army Lodge which is less than a mile from the RV park.

After we arrived here another friend and reader of this blog, Lauren, decided to meet up with us while we were here as well. Lauren’s husband, Rich, is a retired Navy commander, so Lauren made tried to make reservations to stay here at Fort Huachuca. They live in San Diego, but I swear you need an appointment to catch them there as they are always off somewhere doing fun things. Lauren called several times but was unable to get a spot for the time they had available. She opted to go to the overflow site on the other side of the post. She told me all that via e-mail and asked me to check out the overflow area as neither she nor Rich had ever been there before. I wrote back that overflow was not the end of the world, especially for the short time they would be here. I also advised that she call back and leave her contact information with Sharon because there are always spaces showing up for one reason or another. Although overflow isn’t bad, it is a long way from here and would make socializing a bit of a struggle. Lauren sent me her contact information and I gave it to Sharon. Sharon was really happy to see my smiling face because just a few hours before I came in she got a cancelation that would make a space available here in the main park for Rich and Lauren. They would have to move part way through their stay, but that was not a big deal. Rich and Lauren arrived on December 10, and departed on December 17.

Another good friend and former commanding officer of mine who also reads my blog was to be in town for a few days the same week on business here at the post. Kennon’s time with us would be the shortest and he would have the least time available for socializing while here due to the fact that it was a business trip. Now retired from active duty, Kennon is a government contractor working in the Washington, DC area and living in Springfield, Virginia with his lovely and wonderful wife Barbara. He stayed out in town at a local hotel which was hosting the meetings he was here to attend. That made him the furthest from us.

Connie and I wanted to spend as much time with each of our friends as possible. We knew that would be difficult due to the differences in reasons for being here. We decided to try to get all of us together on Monday night for dinner. Logistics being what they are made that a rather daunting task. Rich and Lauren arrived first. By the time they were settled on their site Lauren was able to come over to say hi and bye as she and Rich were going to get lunch before Rich evaporated. Trish and Jay arrived next in the mid-afternoon. They spent some time getting settled into the Army Lodge and then took an unauthorized tour of the western part of the base as they missed the turn into the RV Park. While they were driving around, somewhat aimlessly, Rich and Lauren were here at the motorhome visiting with us and catching us up to date on their lives. Meanwhile I was wondering where Kennon was. When I had reasonable coordinates on the other four, I called Kennon to see where he was and to find out if he would be available for dinner. I caught him as he was doing pre-underway checks on his rental car in Tucson. He said he would have to skip dinner as sleep was the next thing on his agenda following the hour plus drive from Tucson to Sierra Vista. Trish and Jay finally arrived at the motorhome just ahead of me sending a search party out for them. Rich and Lauren declined dinner in favor of an early evening in. That left just the four of us to go in search of food. You may recall that I have said that the area lacks a good bit in the area of ambience. Well, little did I know, it also lacks in the area of open restaurants on Mondays. Our first choice looked to be a good one as there were many cars in the parking lot. However, it was closed and hosting a holiday party for one of the local businesses. Rather than drive around, we went directly to the last restaurant we had passed that was open and had a wonderful evening.

Normally Trish and Jay are an easy couple to entertain. We have spent countless days and nights with the two of them and have never felt any stress in the relationship. That would not change while they were here, but there was another type of stress that would creep into the equation. We had a very short time with them and we wanted to show them as much of the area as we could while they were here. The last day would be spent in Tucson because of the early hour of their homeward bound flight on Saturday. That meant we had Tuesday through Thursday to show them as much of Cochise County as was possible. We did quite well given the circumstances. To start, the weather was not great, but we had to sort of stick to a schedule because we still had to get together with Kennon and keep Rich and Lauren (who are really quite suited to be on their own) in the picture as well.

With that said, we were able to take Trish and Jay to Tombstone to visit the historic features of the area. With the limited time we had we decided to take the 45 minute trolley tour which was great for providing historical information about the town and some of its more famous inhabitants. We also walked the streets some, although the weather was more conducive to walking the shops. We drove out to Boot Hill and walked around reading how the inhabitants found their way to that final resting place. From there we drove to Bisbee and after eating a wonderful lunch in the old hotel, we walked up and down Main Street looking into several of the shops. On our way out of Bisbee we went passed the copper mines which are really quite impressive. In the old days copper was shaft mined. What remains in the Bisbee area are the remnants of many mine shafts and the scars of the huge strip mines that followed the shaft mines as technology evolved. While the strip mines have to be more productive and therefore a more efficient way to get the copper out of the earth, it is certainly not very nice to look at. I was reminded of the huge strip coal mines in northeastern Wyoming. However, in those mining locations there is mandated reclamation that has the mines refill the stripped areas and replant with native vegetation. Areas that were active mines during my youth now support cattle and sheep. I cannot say that I see that same plan being played out in the Bisbee area. Having said that, I am not certain whether or not those mines remain active. The whole area has a “copperish” look to it.

We got back to Fort Huachuca in time to give Trish and Jay a little down time. I was able to sneak in a run on the treadmill. When I returned to the motorhome the long awaited Kennon was there and in the middle of giving Connie an update. Kennon spent his youth between Wilcox, Arizona and El Paso, Texas. He has many fond memories of the area, but I don’t think he has any intentions of returning in his golden years. Following retirement Kennon’s parents settled in that famous little town in New Mexico known for visitations from outer space, Roswell. Unfortunately Kennon’s mother recently passed away, so he was understandably subdued.
We went to our favorite Mexican Restaurant that night where we all ate too much. Rich and Lauren opted to stay at home again, so there were just the five of us for dinner.

Wednesday found us back on the road heading west this time to the little town of Sonoita to visit the Sonoita Winery. There are five wineries in the valley. Two of them are supposed to be open seven days a week. The other three are open only on weekends. Connie and I had been to the Sonoita Winery before and we really like their wines. We were excited to visit another of the valley’s wineries to compare quality and value. Unfortunately the other supposed to be open establishment was not open. That was their loss, as we wound up buying a case of wine from the Sonoita Winery between the four of us. We sampled several wines and bought some souvenirs from the gift shop. All in all it was a good hour or so for the good folks at Sonoita Winery. Of course to get there and to get away from there meant driving through areas that have a bit different eco system as the area immediately surrounding the fort. Therefore, there were different birds to be seen along the way. Jay was driving and he is not an avid birder. By day’s end he had become an avid birder’s driver, though. He learned that “stop” means ten feet back not thirty yards ahead. He learned that driving fast means driving between 10 and fifteen miles per hour instead of the posted speed limit. He learned that there could be no end to the drive since the average speed can reach such lows as less than a single mile per hour. Not knowing when the drive is going to end can wear a good man out. Jay did great and we all had a lot of fun. We took a lot of back roads and eventually returned to the fort via the West gate which is a post I would never have wanted to defend just because of its remoteness.

We caught up with Rich and Lauren and learned that Lauren had taken a fall and banged her head. She was alright, but not wanting to go out to dinner. Our restaurant of choice this night was the Mesquite Tree, the same place we had tried to get into on Monday. We had a great dinner and got a special visit from the owner who had been there to turn us away Monday evening. He was cordial and I believe he is trying to make a difference.

Thursday was the planned bird watching day with Trish and Jay. We took them to the San Pedro River House. The San Pedro River runs from South to North making it the only river with headwaters in Mexico that ends up in the United States. It is also the life blood of the valley. From our vantage point here at Apache Flats we can see the ribbon of Cottonwood Trees that line the banks of the river. Now, I say river and that is what it is called. When Trish and Jay saw it they laughed. The San Pedro River would not make a good creek in SE Georgia even in these drought times. Large or small, the water running along its course is an absolute magnet to thousands of birds who winter in the area and millions more who transit the area in their northern and southern migration. We spent several hours walking the trail along the river looking for and finding several species of birds that Trish and Jay had never seen before. It was a fun day. We ended the walk at the San Pedro House which is operated by the Friends of the San Pedro River, a conservation group working to protect the eco systems that support the river. They have a sizable gift shop in the house that provides a good bit of the foundation’s income. They also have bird feeders on top of bird feeders on the grounds around the house. We spent at least an hour birding the area of the feeders. It was a good day, one that Jay will not soon forget. By the way, for not being an avid birder, Jay is a terrific spotter. He could see perched birds that none of the rest of could find without his assistance. At least one of us had a really hard time with one particular owl, but that story will go untold.

Friday we drove two cars to Tucson, got Trish and Jay checked into their hotel, turned in the rental car and headed for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. If you are ever in Tucson you have to take time to go to this museum. It is not like any museum one normally envisions when thinking about museums. The majority of the museum is outdoors. Some of it has a bit of a zoo feel to it, but it is truly a museum. It is a museum that features the vegetation, mammals, reptiles, birds, archeology, landscape and insects of the Sonora Desert. The Sonora Desert extends far into Mexico so the habitat is fairly varied. With such a land mass and varied eco system the Sonora Desert has a huge variety of occupants and vegetation. In an area of several acres the museum staff has done a wonderful job of recreating most of the habitat. There are two large walk-in aviaries, one consisting of only hummingbirds and the other populated by nearly every other non-bird-of-prey that lives somewhere in this vast desert. Our visit was Connie’s fifth, my second and of course the first time for Trish and Jay since neither of them had ever been to Tucson before. We arrived about ten in the morning and spent the entire day exploring the exhibits and watching the animals in their natural albeit confined habitat. We watched a free flight demonstration by a group of Harris’ Hawks that was worth the price of admission. We spent at least an hour in the hummingbird aviary where I must have looked like an absolute geek snapping pictures of birds only several inches from my lens. That was a great experience for me. I called it training, as these birds were really quite cooperative. They have been around people all their lives and have no real fear.

These are just a few examples of what I was able to capture in images and an even smaller sampling of what we saw. It was a really great day.

By the end of the day we were all pretty tired. We ate an early dinner at P. F. Changs. There is way too much to be said about eating at this fine restaurant, so in interest of space I will just say that we were all very satisfied and left with full stomachs and smiles all around. We deposited Trish and Jay at their hotel and then Connie and I drove back to Fort Huachuca.

On our way home we had the closest call we have had in all the thousands of miles we have driven since starting this adventure some 20 months ago. I was driving along in the right lane just a few miles per hour above the posted speed limit. Over a several mile period a large SUV approached and started to overtake us on the left. He seemed to remain alongside for a long time rather than accelerating a bit to get clear of us sooner. Suddenly and with absolutely no visible reason he started to change lanes into the side of us. It was not a drift, it was a sailor’s sort of course change in that he was making it quite obvious his intention to be in our lane. Unfortunately we were still alongside. I swerved to the right while slowing to get behind him and then back to the left to keep from running off the road. We escaped a serious collision by mere inches and experienced more excitement than I needed that late in the evening. Needless to say the rest of the ride home was not very comfortable.

Kennon had finished his business earlier in the day on Thursday and driven to Roswell to visit his father and see how he was doing prior to returning to Virginia.

Somehow we managed to rest on Saturday. I am not sure how that happened.

So, if you are keeping track we are now down to just two visitors and we have seen precious little of them. However, being frequent visitors to the area they kept themselves well entertained. Lauren even reported seeing a Crested Caracara in a small park adjacent to the RV Park. Rich and Lauren, especially Lauren are birders. Lauren frequently goes off on her own in their motorhome or just in the car in pursuit of some rare bird somewhere. Rich would rather be sailing, but he is a good birder in his own right. So, we were anxious to spend some time with the two of them with binoculars in hand. Connie and I are to participate in the Christmas Bird Count on December 29. Our area will be the Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park (EOP) (waste water treatment plant). Of all the options this would have been our last choice as there are bunches of ducks who winter over here and we are not great duck identifiers. With that in mind we decided we needed to practice. So, with Rich and Lauren in tow we went to the EOP for some practice. Unfortunately access is by appointment only and we didn’t have one so we were restricted to an observation platform that overlooks the works. From that vantage point we were able to see about 15 species, but we knew we were not seeing everything that thrives in this compact area. There was a group inside the area, so we waited until they came out and learned that they had spotted some forty species. So much for the practice.

From there we went on a tour of Sierra Vista. We wanted Rich and Lauren to see the area we have thought a bit about buying into. It is a small community that supports our lifestyle with RV storage, an RV Park and small Santa Fe style homes built to look as though they were made of adobe. I have had a particular attraction to that style since we first visited this area. We then drove out to the Coronado Memorial where we learned a little about Coronado’s trek across the Southwest. It seems that he was in pursuit of a fabled golden city that a priest reported seeing from a distance. In the end his exploration resulted in proving there was no such place. Not the outcome he or the Spanish government was hoping for. We took a short hike while in the area, but we were unable to drive into the memorial due to a road closure that was caused by the monsoonal rains of a couple of years ago. From what we could see of the road, it really looked like there were some great views to be had from the top. Hopefully Connie and I will be able to get back there now that the road has been reopened. We then came back to Sierra Vista for a well earned lunch stop. We had planned to drive up Garden Canyon following lunch as Rich had never been there. After a long wait to be seated for lunch we decided that the drive up the canyon could wait for another opportunity. Privately I was sort of glad the group decided to pass. After all, we are retired and we had been on the run for the entire week. I was wearing down.

Rich and Lauren pulled out early on Monday morning. Lauren was heading for Tucson to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Rich was going on back to San Diego in the car. They did of course make the trip to Tucson together.

Monday found Connie and me in a puddle on the floor. We were exhausted. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy seeing everyone. Quite the contrary, we really would have enjoyed more time with all of them. We did feel that we did not spend enough time with Rich and Lauren, but we also knew that we would see them again when we get to San Diego. We certainly would have liked to spend more time with Kennon, but his work kept him busy while he was here. We always enjoy having Trish and Jay around. What we were not used to was being on the go all the time while everyone was here. So, we took a few days off and just rested.

Of course right around the corner was Christmas. We had decided to not make a big deal of gifts for one another this year so we could concentrate on travel next year. Besides we don’t have much in the way of excess space. We did treat ourselves to an iPod Classic to help us with our bird call identification skills. I am sure more will be written about this new toy in future posts.

The park sponsored a Christmas Eve get together where we shared spirits and desserts and played a little Christmas Trivia. It was a great evening for swapping stories and enjoying everyone’s company. On Christmas Day many of us went to the dining hall for brunch. They put out a pretty good spread, but it paid to be early. We got there late enough to miss out on turkey. That was okay with me, as I believe the Soldiers deserved the best of the pickings. I noticed that very few Soldiers came in while we were there. Later that afternoon we met back at the park recreation center for more desserts and coffee. It was another opportunity to get to know some of our neighbors a little better. One of the really nice things about this place is that every time we have an event in the recreation center we get to sit with different people. Therefore, we get to learn more and more about our fellow campers. It is just too much fun.

We are now in the final throes of planning for the New Year’s Eve Party. I say we, but I have remained uninvolved. Somehow, Connie got on the committee and has been doing a lot of research for music and entertainment to get us in the mood. The theme for the party is the 50’s. I think it should be fun. I was going to go dressed like the Fonzie, but the weather has been so cold I don’t think I can take it in a Tee shirt with no shirt. Connie has suggested I go with the black turtleneck look. As I was very young for most of the fifties, I didn’t know that was an in look back then. However, I think I will make it so just so I can survive the evening.

For the record as I sit here writing this it is a mere 27 degrees outside. We have been below freezing at night for at least two weeks now. We have learned an awful lot about keeping the motorhome warm at night without burning all our propane. It was a cold lesson, but we feel we have emerged as victors. We have been pretty darned comfortable since we bought our second space heater. I know most of you have experienced colder weather than this, but then most of you live in solid structures that are well insulated and heated. Also, remember, if you have known Connie for any length of time you will recall that her retirement goal was to live 50 miles south of the last sign that said “Bridge Freezes Before Roadway”. Well, we ain’t. there folks.

Well, this brings us up to date. Stay tuned.


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