Journey Home Via Arizona, New Mexico and Texas
After being on the road for a while we finally started making our final push home, leaving Yuma for some time in the Phoenix Area, then on to some boondocking near Fort Bowie before catching some great Mexican/American history in New Mexico. Despite the fact that winter caught up with us in Texas, overall it was a good way to end a glorious two months in the southwest.
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On our way out of Yuma, we made a quick stop for the ghost town of Aztec about 70 miles to the east, just off I-8. There's really nothing left of this town but a few run down structures and foundations.
Established in 1889, by Charles A. Dallen, the town of Aztec is no more. This ghost of Arizona was once a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad between Yuma and Phoenix.
On down Interstate 8, we decided to take a side trip about 12 miles north of Sentinel to the ghost town of Agua Caliente. Here, local Native Americans used the nearby hot springs long before the American West was settled. About six miles from the hot springs, the Flap-Jack Ranch was established in 1858 as a stagecoach station on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. The ranch changed it's name to Grinnel's Ranch in 1862. This same area was also noted by the Union Army as Stanwix Station, which was the site of the westernmost skirmish of the Civil War.
The Agua Caliente Ranch at the site of the hot springs, owned by King S. Woolsey, became a well known spot by the early 1870's, and in 1897 a resort was built, complete with 22 rooms and a pool which collected the hot waters from the spring.
Government agent, artist, writer and American traveler, J. Ross Brown passed through here in 1864 and wrote:
"While the Company were encamped at Grinnell's, Poston, White, and myself crossed the Gila, and rode about six miles to the ranch of Martin and Woolsey, situated near the Aqua Calliente. Mr. Woolsey had left, a few days before, with a large quantity of stock for the gold placers. We were hospitably entertained by his partner, Mr. Martin, who is trying the experiment of establishing a farm here by means of irrigation. The soil is excellent, and the prospect is highly encouraging. An abundant supply of water flows from the Aqua Calliente. We had a glorious bath in the springs next morning, which completely set us up after the dust and grit of the journey. They lie near the point of the hill, about a mile and a half from Martin's. I consider them equal to the baths of Damascus, or any other in the world. The water is of an exquisite temperature, and possesses some very remarkable qualities in softening the skin and soothing the nervous system."
"A Mr. Belcher lived at this place for four years, surrounded by Apaches. Indeed it was not quite safe now; and I could not but think, as Poston, White, and myself sat bobbing about in the water, what an excellent mark we made for any prowling Tontos that might be in the vicinity. It was here that the Indians who had in captivity the Oatman girls made their first halt after the massacre of the family. The barren mountains in the rear, and the wild and desert appearance of the surrounding country, accorded well with the impressive narrative of that disaster."
We stayed for a few days in Queen Creek, Arizona with family, boondocking out of their back yard. While there, we had the chance to explore some places we last visited on a quick trip in 2007, including the ever popular ghost town attraction of Goldfield.
Situated atop a small hill between the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Mounts, the settlement of Goldfield got its start in 1892 when low grade gold ore was found in the area. Low-grade or not, a town soon sprang up and on October 7, 1893 it received its first official post office.
This "official" find, coupled with the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine, which had been circulating for years, led plenty of new miners to the area and in no time, the town boasted three saloons, a boarding house, a general store, brewery, blacksmith shop, butcher shop, and a school.
Goldfield's bustling days were quickly dashed when the vein of gold ore started to play out and the grade of the ore dropped even more. Just five years after it began, the town found itself quickly dying. The miners moved on, the post office was discontinued on November 2, 1898, and Goldfield became a ghost town.
However, some prospectors clung on to the area, sure to find the elusive Lost Dutchman Mine or perhaps, a brand new vein. Others tried to reopen the existing mines, but all attempts were unsuccessful until a man named George Young, who was the secretary of Arizona and the acting governor, arrived on the scene in the first decade of the 20th century. Young brought in new mining methods and equipment to recover the ore and the town began slowly to come alive once more. Also built was a mill and a cyanide plant. A second post office was established on June 8, 1921 and the "new" town was called Youngsberg. However, the town’s "rebirth” would last only about as long as it did the first – just five years. Finally, the gold was gone, the post office was discontinued on October 30, 1926, and the town died once again.
Robert F. "Bob" Schoose, a long time ghost town, mining, and treasure-hunting enthusiast moved to the area in the 1960's, and wanting to own his own ghost town, started looking at Goldfield. After seeing little left, he and his wife Lou Ann bought the 5 acre site of the old Goldfield Mill in 1984 and decided to rebuild the town.
Today, Goldfield is filled with authentic looking buildings, includes underground mine tours, and the only narrow gauge railroad in operation in Arizona. Numerous shops and buildings include a brothel, bakery, leather works, a jail, livery, and more. The authentic looking street is filled with people in period costume, horses and wagons, and sometimes authentic gunfighter presentations.
Nearby the tourist attraction of Goldfield there is more history to be explored, including the Lost Dutchman State Park and Superstition Mountains. Of course, we would discourage most from trying to find the treasure of the Lost Dutchman, as many have and perished in doing so.
One of the best treasure tales in the history of the American West is the Lost Dutchman Mine. Shrouded in mystery, the mine is not only allegedly rich in gold, but is also said to have a curse upon it, leading to a number of strange deaths, as well as people who mysteriously go "missing” when they attempt to locate the old mine.
The Superstitions are now a federal wilderness area and Arizona State Park, so even if the gold were found it would have to be surrendered to the government. This does not deter the many seekers – the search, itself, is simply to intriguing. The lost mine is thought to be located somewhere near Weaver’s Needle, the main landmark of the Superstition Mountains, even though the area has been diligently search by hundreds of people. The Superstition range covers approximately 160,000 acres of desolate, rugged terrain, so arid that only a bit of desert vegetation and a few sparse strands of Ponderosa Pine are all that grows.
We made a quick stop at the Superstition Mountain Museum just down the road from the State Park and Goldfield. Formed in 1979, the museum was organized to collect and preserve the history and legends of the Superstition Mountains, as well as support research and education involving the region. It's worth your time to visit this 12.5 acre museum with plenty of photo opportunities, nature walks, and reproductions of 19th Century life.
The Elvis Memorial Chapel at Superstition Mountain Museum is actually movie memorabilia showing the movies that were filmed at Apacheland. The chapel survived two fires, one in 1969 and another in 2004, which destroyed Apacheland Movie Ranch. It was then donated to the Superstition Mountain Museum.
After our days of visiting family and enjoying a little down time, we started our big push toward home, which would take us through parts of southern New Mexico and west Texas. Along the way we boon docked again at the Bureau of Land Managements' Indian Bread Rocks Picnic Area. This was a popular spot, as we counted at least 4 other campers nearby. This is the access point to the Dos Cabezas Mountains Wilderness.
It is also nearby our next destination, Fort Bowie Historic Site. Located in the southeast corner of Arizona, the site commemorates the story of the bitter conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the United States military. It also stands as a lasting monument to the bravery and endurance of U.S. soldiers in paving the way for westward settlement and the taming of the western frontier.
To get to the historic site, you hike a mile and a half in, and along the way you'll pass more than one historic place that was nearby the fort, including ruins of the Butterfield Station, the cemetery, an Apache Camp, The Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, and the original fort, which was built in 1862.
Immediately after the first forts ruins you come to the second, more substantial fort complex built in 1868 and in operation for more than 30 years.
There's lots of history here, including The Bascom Affair of 1861, which would ultimately result in the building of the fort, as well as the abandonment of the southern Butterfield Overland Mail route. You can read all about the fascinating history with Cochise and Geronimo and how the fort played its role in our Fort Bowie story HERE. It was well worth the hike in to see this part of American and Native American history.
After Fort Bowie we pushed on into New Mexico, parking ourselves for a couple of days at an RV Park in Vado, New Mexico, between Las Cruces and El Paso Texas. There is some rich Mexican and American history just outside of Las Cruces at Mesilla, home of the signing of the Gadsden Purchase, which resulted in the current boundaries between Mexico and the US.
Mesilla, also called Old Mesilla and La Mesilla, was incorporated in 1848 after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Citizens, unhappy with being part of the United States, moved south across the new border and established the colony. However, threats of attack by Apache Indian's led the United States to build Fort Filmore and declare the Mesilla Valley region part of the U.S. The resulting boundary dispute with Mexico led to the Gadsden Purchase of 1853.
Mesilla would see its share of excitement, including being the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona in 1861 and 62, then after its capture, headquarters of the Military District of Arizona until 1864. Later in the 1880's the town would attract such characters as Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa.
Today, in Mesilla Plaza, a National Historic Landmark, visitors can see the building where Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang. It is also the same building that once housed the Capitol of Arizona and New Mexico. Today it's a gift shop. Immediately across the street you'll find La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant, Cantina and Chile Shop. This used to be the historic Corn Exchange Hotel, and has been a dining establishment since 1939. Travelers on Butterfield's Overland Stage would "lay over" here after getting off at the Stage Station a block away at what is now the El Patio Restaurant [corrected 11/8/15]. Over the years this building sheltered such famous characters as Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, Pancho Villa and in more recent history, General Douglas MacArthur.
There are other historic buildings in this plaza, including Thunderbird de la Mesilla, the oldest documented brick building in New Mexico built in 1860 , and more. Well worth your time to visit, shop the various stores and enjoy the local cuisine.
We were pretty much wrapping up our two month journey of the Southwest at this point, pushing on past El Paso and running into a bit of Winter that had us hunkering in for an extra day at Van Horn Texas. Along the way we passed through Sierra Blanca, which has most definitely seen it's better days.
Sierra Blanca was founded in 1881 at the completion point of a long-sought southern transcontinental railway. The town is the junction of the Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads. It would go on to become the county seat of Hudspeth County, which was carved out of El Paso County in 1917.
Don't come through here with drugs. Among those that have enjoyed a stay at the jail here are singer Fiona Apple, a member of the entourage of singer Nelly, singers Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, and actor Armie Hammer.
During our stay in Van Horn, Old Man Winter decided to make sure we knew where we were headed and gave us a 'cool' shot of the historic Hotel El Capitan, complete with frozen fountain.
The hotel was built in 1930 and just recently went through a 2.5 Million Dollar renovation. Van Horn began as a settlement in the late 1850 in support of the San Antonio-El Paso Overland Mail route. The town got a boost with the construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1881.
As we left Van Horn for our final push toward Missouri, we were dazzled with a bit of Texas frozen fog to welcome us back to Winter. These images were taken in the ghost town of Kent, Texas.
It was a fantastic journey through the southwest, but we sure were glad to make it back to our home in Warsaw Missouri. We'll be updating plenty of stories with new photos from our travels, as well as writing up a few more, so be watching our What's New page. In the meantime, thanks for following along and don't forget to click on the images to go to their respective galleries.
About the RV Parks we stayed at during this portion of our journey:
In addition to the great boondocking experience at Indian Bread Rocks in Arizona, we stayed at the following RV Parks.
Western Sky's RV Park, Vado New Mexico - We probably wouldn't stay here again. Although the Wifi was alright, they promoted having cable. After hooking everything up though we found they only had 3 channels. The laundry room was a bit run down, with warnings of not overloading the drain by turning on washers at the same time (told to stagger them out).
Desert Willow RV Park, Van Horn, Texas - We would definitely stay here again if passing through. Great management, very clean, wonderful showers, and even though the laundry room was smallish, it was very adequate and updated. We found our stay here very pleasant.
Sweetwater RV Park, Sweetwater, Texas - This place was for sale during our stay. If the same ownership continues, would not stay here again. Run down RV Park that's going to need quite a bit of updating under new ownership.
Five Star RV Park, Tyler, Texas - Good location outside Tyler, friendly management and was a nice stay.
Meadow Brooks RV Park, Muskogee, Oklahoma - Good location inside town. Friendly management, level spots (concrete slabs). Great way to end our overnights on this journey.
Keywords: Fort Bowie, Indian Bread Rocks, Mesilla New Mexico, Sierra Blanca Texas, Van Horn Texas, agua caliente arizona, aztec arizona, goldfield arizona, superstition mountain museum
Mike Macey: I agree. My wife and I travel looking for odd of the wall places. Nice blog
I love your travel blog's content and photos. The Legend's website is a great resource for people looking for interesting travel ideas.
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