Part 1: San Diego to Cottonwood, AZ


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The Experience

We ended up delaying our departure for several reasons, the very least of which was addressing tax returns.  As luck would have it, a weather system rolled into SoCal the night before we departed resulting in very windy conditions and lots of blowing dust.  Our path would take us over the Tecate Divide in the mountains east of San Diego to the desert floor and then northeast to Alamo Lake State Park in Arizona.  Thor, with the Hi-Lo camper configuration does not have a big side surface area, but with gusts of 60 mph we were swerving around just the same.  We "slowed the roll" and arrived at our destination without incident.  This was a pretty long segment with 7 hours of seat-time from SD to Alamo Lake.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

The wind was launching huge clouds of dust into the air as we passed through the Imperial Sand Dunes (AKA "Glamis").  In some points, the horizon line was totally obscured by the blowing dust.

A short distance to the east of Glamis we came upon the tailings of an active gold mining operation.  Rather ugly.

On the far side of the Chocolate Mountains we spotted these USMC helos heading back to their base at MCAS Yuma.  Note the black volcanic ejecta on the hillsides.

We passed over the Colorado River at Blythe.  The river does not look like much by eastern standards, but it is a lifeline in the arid west.

A natural gas pipeline bridge spans the Colorado River at Blythe.

We did a fuel stop in Erhenburg and spotted this fellow with his bus-turned-camper.  We were not sure of the circumstances of his situation and did not ask.

Near dusk we arrived at Alamo Lake State Park in La Paz County, AZ.  The wind was still blowing hard resulting in poor visibility.

Next morning, the wind had abated somewhat resulting in better visibility.  Alamo Lake is man-made and sits on the Bill Williams River.  The surrounding countryside is quite barren.

Note there is no vegetation on the banks of the lake.  Indeed, the lake was down 30 feet or so from full pool.  The "bathtub ring" is visible in the photo above.

Some critters came through our camp at night, snuffling around and making odd noises.  I assumed they were javelina (desert pigs or peccary) but in fact they were feral burros.  I spotted the herd in the dry wash below our campsite when one of the herd started braying.

Being springtime, the Palo Verde trees were in bloom offering up bright yellow flowers and clouds of nose-tickling pollen.

Our plan was to take the most direct route from Alamo Lake to our next destination near Cottonwood, AZ.  The dirt road we traveled started good, but ended bad.  We were told by the counter woman at Alamo that there is "no way" she would take that road again.  Since we were driving Thor, we HAD to take the road to see if her interpretation of "bad" was the same as ours.  Thor had no issues and we never traveled slower than 25 mph, but Thor has major ground clearance and lots of suspension travel.  I am guessing that a low clearance RV would have been pretty unhappy about the road.  Along the way, we pass a number of sahauros, Arizona's state cactus.

In addition to the normal cactus species, we saw Joshua Trees.

We had lunch in a small diner near Prescott, AZ and then rolled past Granite Dells.  Note the bathtub ring here as well.  Rain has been scarce the last few years in the west.

From Prescott, we traveled east over Mingus Mountain and came into the Jerome mining district.  Lots of mines dotted the hills, left over from the mineral rush days of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Above, the tailings dump from the mine is clearly visible and the volume suggests that an extensive network of tunnels were excavated in search of mineral wealth.

From a turn-out on the highway we got our first view of the Verde Valley and the red sandstone cliffs above Sedona, AZ.

Our destination for the night was Dead Horse State Park, but arriving on a Friday afternoon, we ended up in the overflow lot with no water or electrical.  That said, they did have bathrooms, showers and generally nice facilities.  From our campsite we could see Jerome, AZ on the distant mountainside.  Terraces of tailings were also visible.

Our map showed that Tuzigoot National Monument was close as well and indeed we could see the ruins on a nearby hill.  Like most pueblos of the so-called "Sinagua" peoples, they went fallow around 1400 AD for reasons unknown.  Like causes were a series of crop failures caused by an extended drought.  But, whatever the cause, the result was that most of these pueblos were abandoned and the inhabitants moved on.

We went to Tuzigoot to see what was there and it was, frankly, somewhat unimpressive.  Now, that said, this was a large pueblo "back in the day", but quite small compared to some of the larger pueblos like Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado.  I spoke with a docent at length and he said that when the reconstruction was started, the ruins were just that -- ruins.  Only the foundation stones were in place as the balance of the walls had collapsed into a big heap.  The reconstruction consisted of  placing stones back on the foundation lines until there were no more stones.  Oh yeah, they diverted stones to build the visitor's center, thus resulting in a deficit of material and therefore lower walls in the ruins.  In most places, the capstones were installed with conventional concrete to prevent weather-based erosion.  Tuzigoot was located right next to the Verde River, one of the only persistent streams in the area.  The fertile river valley soil provided the basis for the pueblo's agriculturally-based food source.

A lot of effort was put into the reconstruction of the ruins.  At Tuzigoot's height, it supported a hundred folks or so.

From the top looking toward the south the scope of the site becomes apparent.  It is sad that the reconstruction process did not include doorways.  The Verde River is visible at the top right of the photo above and indeed it is green in color as the name suggests.

Looking toward the north the visitor's center can be seen.  As stated above, material from the rubble pile was diverted to the visitor's center resulting in an incomplete recreation of the original pueblo.  Also visible in the photo above is Thor, our camper, in the parking area.

The upper tower of the pueblo was fully reconstructed including stairs and a sealed roof area that is now a viewpoint.

A number of "metates" AKA "morteros" were found at the Tuzigoot site.  The example above consists of the mortero base and a "mano" which is the smaller stone.  This setup was used to grind local seeds and mesquite beans into a flour used to make bread and gruel. The volcanic stone was preferred over local stone as it was harder and left less stone grit in the food.

This is another mortero ground into the local limestone.

After lunch, we headed about 30 miles away to Montezuma's Castle on Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River.  Like Tuzigoot, the ruins here were reconstructed.  Back in the day, tourists were allowed to climb ladders to view the ruins up close, but the volume of people began taking its toll on the site so access was cut off.  Now, you can only view the ruins from the valley floor.  This pueblo was built into the side of the cliff in an overhanging alcove to provide protection from the sun, wind and rain.  The overhang shades the pueblo during the summer, but allows sun to shine on the walls during the winter.  All building materials were hauled up by hand from the creek bed below.  It has been estimated that the entire pueblo consisted of less than 50 individuals.  Given the height of the canyon walls and the amount of material that was needed for the construction of the dwelling, this was a massive undertaking that likely spanned decades.

The dwellers at this pueblo also occupied smaller caves in the canyon walls.

Living in one of these smaller caves would have been a tough life.

Montezuma's Castle had been extensively looted in the early 1900s, but not all artifacts were taken.  This is a fine example of a mortero used to grind seeds.

Some of the smaller caves would have made cramped living quarters.

The canyon floor was quite lush with vegetation.  Not all the trees had a full canopy yet as it was still early in the spring.

Beaver Creek is not very large, but in this area any persistent water source is a big deal.

A parting shot of Montezuma's Castle.  These cliff walls are high and steep and access to the pueblo must have been quite a challenge.  Nobody knows whether the location of the dwelling was chosen for weather reasons (i.e. climate control) or for defense against warring factions.  Since Tuzigoot was built on an exposed steep hill, I have to assume that defensibility was the driving factor.

Both Tuzigoot and Montezuma's Castle are worth the visit if you are in the area.  To provide better insight into the fates of the Sinagua people, I suggest "Collapse" by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jerrod Diamond which discusses the extinction of various ancient cultures around the planet.  The short story is that in an agrarian society, a series of good years allows a significant increase in birthrate and associated population.  Follow this by an extended period of bad years and things collapse due to lack of resources and too many mouths to feed.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2018, all rights reserved.
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