After four months in Desert Trails RV Park in Tucson, AZ, we packed up and headed to Willcox, AZ, about 90 miles, and planted ourselves for two nights in the Grande Vista RV Park in Willcox. We had heard a lot about the area and wanted to see it for ourselves. If one were to just stumble on Willcox and drive through town, they would be greeted by lots of closed businesses and empty, gutted buildings. Without some warning that the area is very interesting, we would have just kept going. What a mistake that would have been! In fact, two nights was not enough to do all the things there are to do, so we signed up for two more.
After a cursory tour of the town to get oriented, and to find the grocery store, we found one of the many wineries in the area and went in for a tasting. The Coronado Vineyard proved to be a wonderful surprise. The vineyard owners are also pistachio farmers. The tasting list was fairly short but we could each taste six wines, which we did. They only had one white to taste, which was OK, but their strength was really reds. We chatted with the winetender who turned out to be really fun, not rushed. There was no one else in the place until the guy with the Tesla showed up. He was trying to impress both the winetender and us with his wealth (or success or whatever), but none of us were particularly interested. Eventually he just settled down and chatted along with us. As we were leaving, she reminded us to take our glasses with us, which was unexpected. They are really nice glasses. And the tasting was free. Most wineries charge for tastings which nets you a glass. Cooper ended up buying two bottles of Two Head Red. (The winery sits at the base of Dos Cabesas (two heads) mountain.
It was pretty early when we were done with the tasting, so we decided to head to the Amerind Museum north of Willcox. We got there about 3:30 pm but they close at 4:00 pm. Because there was only a half hour left, they let us in for free. This is an amazing museum, originally the collection of a guy named Fulton who found a semi-buried ancient Indian pot and became enamored with archaeological finds. He devoted his life to collecting anything that related to indigenous peoples from all of North America. (Amerind = American Indians). We were so taken with what little we saw at this museum that we HAD to return the next day. We don’t have any pictures to share (other than the entrance) because photography is forbidden.
The second day we visited the museums dedicated to country western music legends, Rex Allen and Marty Robbins. The museums are closed on Mondays or we would have done them the first day (which was a Monday). Rex Allen was born in Willcox, as was his son, Rex Allen, Jr. Seeing this community today, it is hard to believe that music icons came from Willcox. Willcox is very proud of their native sons and the museum dedicated to them showcases not only these stars, but honors the local cowboys and ranchers from the area. There is a room in the back of the museum with painted portraits of local ranchers that is extremely special and well done. My favorite thing in the whole museum was the red cowboy boots with golf cleats.
Next door is the Marty Robbins museum. While Marty was not from Willcox, his friend, Rex Allen Jr, felt his hometown was not honoring Robbins the way it should and invited Marty to move the museum next door to his dad’s museum in Willcox. And it was done. Now the original town wants the museum back. Stay tuned.
I wasn’t aware that Rex Allen was the voice of many Disney characters in his later years. Apparently, Rex Allen was involved with Disney in more than 40 different movies, character voices and as a singer and actor. He was acknowledged by the Disney people for his work.
Following our museum visits, we went to lunch at the Big Tex BBQ restaurant which is located in an old railroad car. I didn’t mention that Willcox has a railroad running right through downtown and they have a railroad museum that we didn’t get to. Although the restaurant’s specialty is house-smoked BBQ brisket, the special of the day was Chicken Fried Steak, homemade mashed potatoes and grilled yellow squash. Neither of us could remember when we had last had chicken fried steak, so we both ordered it. It was good. Crunchy. Good white gravy. Homemade Mashed potatoes. And the squash… cut in ribbons and grilled on a flat top. YUM!
Then we went back to the Amerind Museum. We spent the entire afternoon there. It is such an amazing place and documents ALL the western Native American tribes from Alaska through the southwest. There is so much it is hard to take it all in.
I kind of cheated, however, on the “no photography” ban, when a crazy woodpecker started attacking the window outside one of the rooms. This bird wouldn’t give up. He kept flying and attacking the glass. Crazy bird! We spent almost three hours at this museum and its attached art gallery.
The weather sucked the two days that we were doing these indoor things (heavy winds), so we had not yet attempted to see the Cochise Stronghold or Chiricahua National Monument. On the way back from the Amerind Museum the second day, the winds were so fierce (35 mph sustained winds with gusts to 50 mph, according to the news) that we encountered a mini-haboob (don’t you love that word?) near the Willcox Playa (a dry lake). A haboob is a huge duststorm that can blind drivers and camels in the desert. The ones on YouTube are really scary. Just saying….
Two days proved to be not enough time to explore all Willcox and the area has to offer. We signed up for another two nights.
On Wednesday, since the winds had died down, we ventured out to the Cochise Stronghold. Cochise was the leader of a band of Chiricahua Apache that was able to hold off the advances and attacks of the US Army for almost 12 years by hiding out in a rocky canyon. I don’t know what we were expecting, but most National Park Service parks have info centers and interpretive centers. Not this one. The stronghold is at the end of Texas Canyon, surrounded on three sides by rocky mountain sides. Interpretation of the site is done through plaques along a short path – just as effective as a whole building would have been. Below is the only sign that lets you know you are at the stronghold.
Our last day we went to the Chiricahua National Monument. Most of the monument is closed for road construction, but we were still able to get to the Visitors’ Center and take a tour of the Faraway Ranch. The park volunteer who led the tour really knew his stuff. He was 80 years old and it was his last day at the monument until next winter. He was totally surprised to have 14 people on his tour since the weather was awful, cold and it was “snaining” (rain and snow). Since we were inside for most of the tour, it didn’t matter. He was able to connect all the dots about how the ranch came to be, who the owners were and how the various families involved were inter-twined. It was fascinating. Construction on the roads is due to be completed by April 9, so we will have to return next winter to see more of the intriguing rock formations in the area.
National Parks and Monuments is one of the photography assignments for the photo club at Desert Trails to tackle over the summer. 2016 is the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, so it seems appropriate. Since the weather was pretty bad, none of the shots I took are stellar, but there are many more parks we can visit this summer.
Next we are on to El Paso. I love anticipating what is around the next corner.