December 1, 2003 Southwest-Tucson

After leaving Big Bend, we spent a very pleasant week traveling through central New Mexico and northern Arizona before arriving in Tucson.

In New Mexico we visited the Radio Astronomy Observatory with its Very Large Array of radio telescopes. (These were featured in the movie "Contact," with Jodie Foster.) It was a very interesting place. We had planned to visit the Lightning Lab which is not far away, but one needs 4 wheel drive to get up the mountain to it, so guess it will have to wait for another time when we might be towing a 4WD vehicle. We passed on White Sands since we had been there before, but may do it again another time--it is a beautiful place.

In Arizona, we spent a full day visiting the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert National Park. Riley didn't remember being there before, though I can remember at least two occasions when I was. At any rate the colors were very bright and most beautiful, in particular the reds. Time of day seems to have a lot to do with the brightness of color as by the time we got to Blue Mesa, the colors were fairly faded, and I know I have seem them darker before. Of course, erosion is going on every day too. We took hikes where they were offered and had a great time. At the Crystal Forest area, a park ranger struck up a conversation with us, and was telling us how the petrified wood used to completely cover the ground there before people started carrying it away. Evidently, theft of park property, which the rocks are, is higher here than any other park. Anyway, she took us across the road into an area where one is prohibited unless with a ranger, to show us how it used to be. The difference in number of rocks was amazing and every one so beautiful with sunlight glinting off the quartz crystals. So we got sort of a bonus trip due to the friendliness of this very nice park ranger.



We also spent a night at the Grand Canyon. As we came into the park, we stopped at the view points, but it was so windy and cold, we didn't spend much time enjoying them, hoping the next day would be better. No such luck, it was colder (26) and windier, so we decided to drive on out. As we drove to lower and slightly warmer elevations, it snowed on us. Quite pretty and not enough to make driving hazardous.


South of Flagstaff, we drove through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona for the red rocks and cliffs. One of the prettiest areas we've been to--very impressive. So many people like to drive through there that Arizona has decided to make money off it by requiring a pass to park in all of the pull outs that people use to take pictures--very annoying. We hadn't realized this so had no pass and didn't stop. I wonder how often they enforce this by ticketing people who have just stopped to take a picture and move on?


We then met our friends Dick and Earin Scott at Karchner Caverns, where they were touring. I don't go through caverns any more--claustrophobia gets worse with age. Together we went up to Kitt Peak and toured the observatory. The docent who showed us around was a lifelong amateur astronomer and clearly loved his subject. As a result, we got a great and informative tour. We learned that not only is our Milky Way Galaxy currently merging with a dwarf galaxy, but it is on a head-on collision course with the much bigger Andromeda Galaxy at an incredibly high rate of speed. Fortunately, the distance is so great that the merge won't begin for several billion years! Guess we don't need to start worrying yet! :-)

The last four days have been very enjoyably spent with Riley's family in Tucson. We took some great hikes: Aravaipa Canyon, Finger Rock Trail, and the washs around Randy and Ginny's home. We actually had the Thanksgiving meal on Friday in order to take the Aravaipa Canyon trip on Thursday. On this one, we spent a lot of time wading back and forth across a very cold creek. It took a long time for the feet to warm up when we got back to the car, but it was definitely worth it. Saturday, we split up and Riley went with one group to the Desert Museum, which I understand he found quite interesting. I went with another group to Nogales, Mexico. We had a splendid time and did lots of walking thru the shops--buying too. Not sure why, but Nogales seems to have a nicer atmosphere than, say, Tijuana. The people are friendly and though you still are subjected to lots of shills and bargaining to reduce prices, it always seems more like fun than desperation. There are Mariachi bands and Cantinas here and there and everyone seems to be having a good time. Sunday, there was a hike in Sabino Canyon without us. We stayed at the house and hiked in the area, did laundry, and in general, packed up and got ready to take off. When the hikers returned, we said our good-byes and are now back on the road, heading for San Diego to visit Lara and family.

We expect to be in Seattle on Dec. 8 and will stay up to 2 weeks. We want to have good visits with Keith, Gaynell, and Roxie, as well as seeing doctors and dentist. We also need to have a few minor things done on the RV and I would like to get the carpet cleaned. So, at this point, it is hard to say when we will leave Seattle and head back to Houston for Christmas.

Love to all,
Margie & Riley

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