Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wandering Around Willcox

If you follow Interstate 10 across New Mexico into Arizona driving towards Tucson or Phoenix you're going to pass the town of Willcox.  In the past, Denny and I have driven to the Cider Mill in Willcox from St. David, Arizona to purchase frozen apple cider but we never really looked around the town while we were here.

This year I decided to arrange a stay of a week's time so we could play golf in Sunsites and check out the Rex Allen Museum and get some cider.  Well, two out of three is not bad.

It seems the town of Willcox has been hard hit by the recession and a lot of the local restaurants and motels have closed down.  The Cider Mill was victim to the economy also, shutting down after selling locally grown apples and apple products for twenty-plus years.  When you ask folks where to eat they recommend the Big Tex BBQ place or "The Plaza" which is a little restaurant at the truck stop along the interstate.  Driving through downtown there are almost as many empty storefronts as there are those still in business and there's not much traffic on the roadways.  It only takes a few minutes to navigate most of the town, so after driving around a bit one day we stopped at the Rex Allen Museum.  

Growing up in the 50s and 60s my heroes were cowboys: Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, the Rifleman, Sugarfoot, Sky King and more.  Rex Allen wasn't a name I was familiar with but I figured he was a contemporary of Roy Rogers and that was good enough for me.

Located on N. Railroad Avenue near the middle of town, when you pull up to park across the street you discover a statue of Rex Allen himself as well as a separate memorial to his horse, KokoOnce Denny and I went inside the museum, we were immediately informed by one of the staff there that Rex had been cremated upon his death and part of his ashes were scattered by Koko's memorial at his request while the other half were scattered at Rex's parents' gravesites. 

It will cost a couple all of $3 to tour the museum; $2 if you are a single.  On the day Denny and I visited we were met at the door by two employees who had obviously worked together a long time; like an old married couple they finished each others statements and bantered back and forth like an amateur comedy team.   It turns out that one of the men was from Ohio originally while the other was a native of Willcox.  Denny and I chatted with them almost as long as we spent wandering the small museum.
Real cowboys wear spangles.  Most of Rex's outfits were created by Nudie, while his boots were by Tony Lama.   In addition to being in movies, Rex Allen had a long recording career and worked in radio, making many public appearances, usually with his beloved horse Koko (nicknamed the Miracle Horse of the Movies.)

The minimum requirements to be a cowboy, as posted in the museum.

The museum is divided into several sections dealing with Rex Allen's various careers, family and life growing up in Willcox, but the room I found impressive was the one dedicate to the local cowboys--those ranchers and farmers of Willcox.  Most of the portraits here have been painted by very talented local artists and show the determination and true grit it takes to carve out a life here in the high desert.

It's not going to take you a long time to cover the entire museum, but it was an interesting way to spend the morning and bring back memories of sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday morning enthralled by the cowboys racing across the small screen.  And that was certainly worth the $3.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Journal Entry June 3, 2003

I had started to post this while we were in Oklahoma City and got distracted with RV issues.  I will occasionally be posting blogs covering some of our travels from before I started blogging in 2005.

Tuesday, June 3 We had thunderstorms early this morning, but no winds so the rain came straight down and we didn’t have to close the bedroom windows, which was weird because it flashed and banged and you would have thought there would be high winds. The weather cleared up after dawn, so after breakfast we drove downtown to the Oklahoma City Memorial. I’ll tell you, I’ve never been to a place where my eyes kept tearing up over and over due to the stories and pictures and videos and photographs and words inscribed on granite and concrete and the memorials left in the original protective fencing. It was touching and awe-inspiring for all the stories of heroism and bravery and pain and terror. There is the outdoor memorial area, with the empty chairs representing those that died that are placed in rows to represent the floor where the person was at the time of the bombing, the reflecting pool and two gates with the time of 9:01 on the east end, representing the time of innocence before the bombing and the west gate has 9:03 on it, which represents the time that Oklahomans were changed forever, since the bombing occurred at 9:02. The museum is in the Journal building, which was badly damaged but left standing next to the Murrah building. They have areas inside that show the damage to the building, with the concrete blocks in rubble and damaged office furniture crushed, doors blown outward, etc., as well as videos of survivors and rescuers and volunteers and relatives and friends of those who were lost, pictures and videos of the bombing and of the world’s reaction to it, and the most touching room was the room of pictures of those who died, each picture set in a shadow box and for many of the pictures relatives and/or friends had placed mementos relating to that person in the box, like a child’s favorite toy, or something of special importance to that person. That was a hard room to view. I’m so glad we went there.

The entrance to the memorial showing the time the bomb exploded.

One hundred and sixty-eight chairs; one for each person killed.  Each chair is inscribed with the name of one lost and each chair is lit at night.

Simply titled "Jesus Wept", this statue stands with its back to 168 pillars.
 Written by one of the many search teams looking for survivors.
 Personal memorials left by friends, family and those passing through.  Periodically items are removed and cataloged and the fence fills again.
"Forever changed".  This wall at the opposite end of the reflecting pool shows the time the explosion ended and the beginning of the way our country now had to think about terrorists.

I was looking back in my journals to see when we were here last exploring the city and found my journal entry on our visit to the bombing memorial. As I reread it I realized I really didn't do justice to the museum or to the people who created this memorial or to the people who died that awful day. But our visit left me emotionally overwhelmed and I just couldn't summon the words to describe the emotional impact the entire memorial area had on me. This is one of those places that you just have to come and experience for yourself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Missile and A Mission

Duck and Cover--for those of us growing up in the 50s and 60s practicing this drill was standard procedure in elementary school.  So when I was perusing the list of places we could visit in Tucson, Arizona it was natural for me to be intrigued by the idea of visiting a Titan Missile silo to see one of those awesome harbingers of doom.
Located just a few miles south of Tucson in Sahuarita, Arizona there's just a small sign by the turn off for the Titan Missile Museum.  After we parked by the Discone Antenna (ignoring the radioactivity sign at our own peril) we entered the small storefront/museum entrance to discover we had missed a tour by 15 minutes and had another 45 minutes to wait for the next tour.  The tour itself lasts one hour and there is an admission fee with multiple types of discounts for seniors/military/AAA, etc.  There are a few displays and plaques with the history of the Titan missile program but most of the area is given over to touristy souvenirs in the shop. 

Your tour starts with a brief video explaining what you'll be seeing inside the missile silo and then you are led to the open area on top of the silo complex where a tour guide explains the mechanics of the missile itself, including its size, its propulsion system and fuels, the outer security systems and spoke about working there, as many of the guides are former employees of the base.
 One set of four motion detector systems along the outer perimeter of the missile silo area.

Then we walked to a metal staircase the led to a glass topped area that looked down into the actual silo for the now-deactivated Titan II missile.  Unfortunately the glare of the sun on the glass meant I was unable to get a photo looking down into the silo.  Those beige panels are the huge sliding sections of roof that covered the silo and that rolled open for launching the rocket.

Next we traipsed down 55 steps to the inner sanctum of the missile silo, entering through three ton steel doors that had to be opened with special codes that were once burned after they were entered.  Our tour guide, Bob, explained the tasks and preparedness drills the staff went through on a daily basis and even showed a dry run of what a launching would have been like.  Of course, no missiles were ever actually launched from any of the bases.  Back in the 60s there were a total of 54 missile silos; 18 in Tucson, AZ, 18 in Little Rock, AR, and 18 in Wichita, Kansas.  The silo here in Tucson is the only one still in existence.

The long hallway leading from the command center to the missile launch silo.

The halls weren't built for tall guys.
Looking through a cut out in the wall at the deactivated Titan rocket and warhead.

Looking down towards the base of the silo.

Bob, our tour guide, was a font of information about the Titan Missile base, the program and the mechanics of the rocket itself. If you are interesting in learning more I found a great site here. What I should have done was bring my small digital recorder because the amount of information given is vast and it was all fascinating.  Unfortunately, I find that as I age I can look around and listen and process, but I can't always do all three at once.

After leaving the Titan Missile Museum we headed for the Mission San Xavier del Bac just a few miles north off Interstate 19.  I've seen photographs of this history church on other RV blogs and wanted to see this "white dove of the desert."
The Mission of San Xavier del Bac is still in use as a church and is available for weddings and funerals for the Native American Tohono O'oodham people who worship here.  There are no admission fees to visit the church and you are free to wander the grounds and the church itself as long as services are not in session. 
 Now a National Historic Landmark, construction of the current Mission San Xavier del Bac began in 1783 and finished in 1797.  The artwork and craftsmanship inside are amazing for the time and restoration has been ongoing for years due to lightning and storm damage as well as earthquake damage.  Built of brick, stone and lime mortar originally, over the years cement plaster was added and now the restorers are removing that cement plaster and working on returning the walls to their original lime plaster. If you look closely at the first picture (double click to enlarge) you can see the difference between the completed tower on the left versus the tower on the right side of the photo. 

There is a small museum and gift shop on the grounds, as well as a snack bar and a couple of shops operated by local Native Americans.  In the parking lot you'll find several stands with local folks cooking tacos and Indian fry bread for sale while the music of a wooden pipe wafts on the breeze.  It's only a recording coming from one of the nearby shops, but the sound is magical here in the desert standing in front of the white dove.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

An Unintentional Christmas Present

When our youngest son called on Christmas morning, he asked what Denny and I had bought each other as gifts. I told him that we hadn't bought specific gifts because we tend to buy things we need like new golf bags/shoes/shirts and call them "anniversary" presents or "birthday" presents no matter when they are purchased. And then we throw/give away something old.

I always find something to buy at the Mesa Market Place (swap meet/flea market) and this year was no exception; I purchased a lovely hand blown art glass solar powered mushroom yard decoration. I called it my birthday present and figured that would work for Christmas also (after all the two are only four days apart.)

But then we moved from our campground in Gold Canyon, Arizona to a county park campground in Mesa and that's when Denny and I discovered we had given ourselves a Christmas gift after all; a beautiful desert setting where we were serenaded by birds in the daytime and coyotes at night. During our week long stay here the two of us have run errands, visited with friends, done some sightseeing on back roads and hit the flea market again where we bought a new pair of binoculars (20 x 70 power) which we have used to pick out distant hikers on the mountainside, followed jet contrails in the sky and watched birds in flight and lizards scrabbling on the desert floor. We have breathed deeply and relaxed completely and that in itself has been a gift.

So Darb, for Christmas we gave each other a campground. And since we've enjoyed ourselves here so much, for Valentine's Day we're giving it to each other again.
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