Thursday, January 3, 2013

Xmas and New Year's (2012-2013)

Like last year, it's been a while since we've visited any national parks in a while.  This winter holiday season, while situated in the Bay Area, we made a road trip out to southern Arizona, stopping by the various NPS units there.  By now, we have visited all NPS units of Arizona.

The NPS units visited this year include:
(1)  Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area - not really governed by the NPS but by its own agency.  Various state parks that document the history of the Yuma Crossing and the area in general.  Arguably Yuma's greatest claim to fame is the Territorial Prison, featured in westerns such as 3:10 to Yuma (recently remade in 2007).

(2)  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - one of the few places in the U.S. to see organ pipe cacti growing, nice little national monument.  Unfortunately, because of the proximity to the Mexican border, illegal immigrants and drug trafficking is a big problem, given the vast desert and ease of crossing.  Many border patrol checkpoints along the highway, meaning that you will be stopped frequently and questioned.  

(3)  Casa Grande Ruins National Monument - ruins of the ancient Sonoran Desert people (Hohokam), which includes the impressive four-story great house (hence the name "casa grande"). 

(4) Saguaro National Park - dense forests of Saguaro cacti right near Tucson, a wonderous sight to see.  There are two units, one to the west and the other to the east of Tucson, which are not connected.  IMO, the western side was the more beautiful one.

(5) Tumacacori National Historical Park - preserved Spanish missions south of Tucson.  The largest standing one is the San José de Tumacácori, which was never truly completed because of lack of funds.

(6) Coronado National Memorial -  commemorates conquistador Coronado's crossing through the now U.S. - Mexican border.  Originally supposed to be established with Mexico as an international park, but the Mexican side never materialized.  Offers nice views of the valleys on both sides of the mountain.  

(7) Fort Bowie National Historic Site - ruins of the fort established in the 19th century by the U.S. government to deal with the conflicts with the Chiricaha Apaches.  Sad chapter of U.S. history of the whites exploiting and unfairly treating the native Americans.  Includes a 1.5 mile hike to the visitor center.  We had to hike in the snow, a unique New Year's Eve experience!

(8) Chiricahua National Monument - beautiful rock formations, similar to Bryce Canyon National Park but different in geological formation.  As with Fort Bowie NHS, the snow made it impossible to hike down and get a closer view of some of the monument's treasures.  Good thing was that the park road was cleared and allowed us to drive in and see the snow-covered rocks from the vista points.   

(9) Tonto National Monument - cliff dwellings of the ancient Salado people, which includes a very accessible hike to the lower dwellings.

(10) Montezuma Well -  part of the Montezuma Castle National Monument, the main unit we've visited a few years ago.  The well is a natural sinkhole of fresh groundwater, 1.4 million gallons of water flowing out each day.  It's a very cool site to see in the middle of the desert.  Beware though, apparently the water has high concentrations of arsenic...   

and then, of course there are other things to see along the way...

(1) Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - right next to Saguaro NP west, this museum houses an amazing collection of desert plants and animals.  The best part is the Raptor show, where owls and hawks freely soar around, sometimes inches above the crowd's heads! Truly a Tucson gem.

(2) Sabino Canyon - beautiful canyon in the northeast corner of Tucson.  Easily accessible and the roads are all paved, it's a popular hiking location for Tucson residents.  For those who are short on time (like us), take the tram that takes you all the way up and down.

(3) Picacho Peak State Park - little AZ state park 30 mins away from Tucson.  Has a challenging hike to the peak, which we didn't have time to do.  We ended up taking a shorter trail.  Provides good views of the Sonoran desert.

(4) Sedona - touristy little town located in a valley surrounded by big red rocks.  Endless hiking trails to these red rock formations.  Unfortunately, we both were ill and had to cut our stay at Sedona short.  Slept at Baby Quail Inn, owned by retired actor/comedia Dick Curtis.  Breakfast dining room features pictures of him and other actors/performers of the 60s.  Most interesting thing was that during World War II, he was stationed in China.  Had a nice chat with him.

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