Bicycling through southeast Arizona, page 2

Page 1: Green Valley to Bisbee
Page 2: Bisbee back to Green Valley

Wednesday, April 18

Distance: 45.8 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 44 minutes
Average speed: 12.2 mph
Maximum speed: 36.4 mph

The town of Bisbee has two primary tourist attractions, if you don't count the year-round pleasant weather. They are mining and art, strange as that may seem. In 1880, Bisbee was established as a mining town for the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, which later became Phelps Dodge Corporation. The company mined copper, silver and gold with both underground shaft mines and open-air pit mines, and visitors can take tours of both types. Just south of town is the Lavender Pit, a gigantic pit mine that removed a mountain and left a deep hole in its place. In many ways the pit represents an ugly destruction of nature, but that hasn't kept the state from putting a "scenic overlook" sign next to the pit on highway 80. It is interesting to look at, if only to see the destructive power of mining.

Eventually the metals were depleted and metal prices dropped, eliminating most of the town's mining jobs, and that's why art came to Bisbee. Bisbee's location in the Mule Mountains gives it wonderful scenery and year-round pleasant weather. When the mining jobs left the housing prices plummeted, and that inspired many artists to relocate to Bisbee. Now Bisbee's Main Street is packed with art galleries, cafes and other unique shops that appeal to tourists. Some art galleries were closed on Wednesday, but there are so many galleries that Kathy and I had plenty left to visit. We saw a lot of paintings, pottery, wood sculpture and even copper sculpture - a tribute to the town's mining history. One gallery owner tried to talk Kathy into buying a painting that she liked. It was a cute painting of quail walking past a prickly pear cactus, but the price was $1600. The owner offered to lower the price to $1500. Sorry, but we can't afford that kind of souvenir. We'll just print some large photographs when we get home. After seeing the galleries we ate a late lunch in Bisbee and then packed up camp.

Daniel waking up in our tent.

The Lavender Pit, as seen from our campground.

Daniel playing on a small train that was used to service underground copper mines.

The hills in Bisbee are so steep that there are several large staircases, like this one, to help people get around the neighborhood.

This mural is on a concrete retaining wall about halfway up Main Street. A 50-something woman at our campground said that some people call Bisbee's Main Street "The Time Tunnel" because as you walk up the street you enter neighborhoods of "hippies living in the past."

Window-shopping at an art gallery in Bisbee's downtown.

A few galleries focused on Native American art. This decorative pot was made on the Hopi reservation in northeast Arizona. This traditional type of pottery is made from clay on the reservation, hand-molded (no potter's wheel,) fired in an open pit, and painted with brushes made from the hair of young girls. Apparently the texture of a girl's hair changes during puberty, and that's why women's hair isn't used.

St. Patrick's Church, built in 1916.

A stained-glass window inside St. Patrick's Church - much more wholesome than the windows at Big Nose Kate's Saloon.

We had a headwind as we rode west on highway 92, but we were going downhill most of the way so it wasn't too bad. Kathy was nervous about camping in the open so close to Mexico (highway 92 is 3 miles from the border,) so we decided to continue north up to Sierra Vista to find a private campground. The only problem was that we never found a campground there. Sierra Vista is a big town with all kinds of amenities, and it's very popular with retirees. Where do all the snowbirds park their RVs? Not near highway 92, I guess. We asked a few pedestrians for advice, but they could only vaguely recall the locations of RV parks. Eventually, after dark, we continued north up to Huachuca City. I didn't see any campgrounds, but Kathy saw a church on our right that had cars in the parking lot - perhaps a Wednesday night prayer meeting? We turned around so we could go back to the church and ask someone about campgrounds, but as soon as we turned around our questions were answered. Right across the street from the church was the only RV park in town, but we had missed its sign because of the darkness.

These private campgrounds keep getting cheaper: $20 in Tombstone, $15 in Bisbee, and just $10 tonight in Huachuca City. All of them have been fine; we don't need many amenities, just a tent site and a bathroom.

Looking south at Mexico's mountains from highway 92. Since we were only 3 miles from the border, this was as close as Kathy or I had ever come to entering a foreign country.

Thursday, April 19

Distance: 48.9 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 42 minutes
Average speed: 10.3 mph
Maximum speed: about 32 mph (computer error)

We were helped again as we packed up this morning - our neighbor Bernard, in the RV campsite next to us, entertained Daniel while Kathy and I packed up camp. Daniel thinks that every man with gray hair is his grandpa, and wants to talk to him. Bernard had a little dog for Daniel to play with.

Today we had our worst headwinds, but we were prepared for it. The wind around here almost always blows from the southwest, and that's where we were headed. Getting to Sonoita was especially tough because it was uphill, but then it was downhill from there to Patagonia.

Getting dressed.

Our neighbor, Bernard, keeps Daniel busy while Kathy and I pack up.

Grazing land east of Sonoita.

Tonight we chose to camp at Patagonia Lake State Park, which is a few miles south of the town of Patagonia. Daniel was frantic and crying at the end of the day, but he calmed down as soon as we carried him to the edge of the lake, where he could watch the ducks. According to literature that I've read, this lake and the surrounding area is one of the best bird-watching spots in the United States, and I saw several people standing by the lake watching birds through binoculars.

Long after nightfall I got out of bed to check our bike trailer (I had heard some noises,) and to look at the stars. I could see many, many stars - far more than from any city - but I could barely perceive the arc of the Milky Way. I really expected to see more; southern Arizona is supposed to be a good area for star-gazing, the sky was totally clear, the barely-lit moon had set hours earlier, and we were camped in a valley with very few light sources. I guess the lights of Nogales, about 15 miles away, cause light pollution here. I once saw the Milky Way with stunning clarity when Kathy and I were camping in northwest Colorado, and I would love to see it that well again.

Riding near Patagonia Lake State Park.

The hills around Patagonia Lake State Park.

Daniel watching ducks at the lake.

Friday, April 20

Distance: 56.9 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 0 minutes
Average speed: 14.2 mph
Maximum speed: 34.2 mph

We spent the first hour of our ride pushing our bike up steep hills on the 4-mile road that goes from Patagonia Lake back up to highway 82. This is a common downside of camping at state parks - they are spacious and reasonably priced, but often many miles off the main road. An 8-mile round-trip ride from the highway to a state park and back can reduce the daily progress of a bike tour by 10 to 20 percent. Fortunately for us, Patagonia Lake is a pretty place, and it was worth the extra miles to camp there for a night.

The southwest wind was super strong today, so I'm glad that our ride to Nogales was mostly downhill. After turning north we zipped along with little effort. The tailwind also helped us in another way: we could talk to each other easily because there was virtually no wind noise in our ears. After riding into the wind for 2 days and having to shout our thoughts to each other, riding in peace and quiet was a welcome change.

Part of our daily routine - putting on sunscreen.

Fixing the only flat tire of our trip.

We visited one historic site today, the site of a Spanish mission in Tumacacori that was established in 1691 by Jesuit missionaries. At that time tens of thousands of natives in Mexico (then called New Spain) had already converted to Christianity, and the Pima Indians had asked the Jesuits to start a mission here. The church building still standing at the site was built slowly from 1800 to 1822. In addition to the church, the mission included a farm with livestock and newly introduced crops, like wheat and fruit trees, and then-modern housing for the community. Before the mission arrived, Pima Indians lived in huts made of sticks and mud and ate mostly corn, squash and beans, supplemented with meat from hunting.

The church building of the Tumacacori mission. The bell tower was never completed, and the whole church floorplan was scaled back several times during construction due to various setbacks. The setbacks included: expulsion of the Jesuits from New Spain, the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican-American War, Apache raids, and diseases that decimated the native population. Considering all that, it's amazing that the mission lasted about 150 years.

Inside the church sanctuary. Although much has deteriorated, some of the original wall painting is still visible.

The cemetery behind the church. The round building on the left is the cemetery chapel. It was supposed to have a domed roof, but the roof was never added due to lack of funds.

After visiting the mission we celebrated the last day of our tour by eating a big lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant, then zipped north to Abby and Lincoln's house with the wind at our backs. What a great trip we've had! 259 miles over 5 days, with lots of breaks for sightseeing and only 1 flat tire (which occurred this morning.) We had no rain, no mechanical problems and no health problems. Daniel slept soundly in his sleeping bag each night even though he had never used a sleeping bag before. In fact, Daniel seemed sad that he had to sleep in a crib in his own room tonight, rather than in a tent with us. The daily scenery of mountain ranges, cacti and mesquite trees was new to Kathy and me. Before we started this trip I wasn't sure that we could finish it, but we tried it anyway and had a vacation that Kathy, Daniel and I all enjoyed.

The Santa Rita Mountains north of Tumacacori.

In Green Valley, golf carts are at least as important as bicycles. The town has seven country clubs, and most neighborhoods are restricted to people older than 55.

Daniel naps peacefully near the end of our ride.

Kathy, Daniel, Lincoln and Charis on the day after our bike tour.

Page 1: Green Valley to Bisbee
Page 2: Bisbee back to Green Valley