Saturday, April 12, 2014

It's all in the ruins ... at Casa Grande

Arizona is full of things to see, but I don’t usually linger when I’m here because it’s always in July or August, the hottest time of the year.  I melt and want to get out and back in to Phoenix as quickly as possible. 

This year has been way different.  Jaz and I were riding in March, which is mostly perfect T-shirt-riding weather, although we had times we had to wear jackets, too, and thought that 70-degree weather was freezing.  How quickly we become accustomed to the warmer weather.  I’ve been loving it.  I digress.

Anyway, there’s a place called Casa Grande Ruins, which I found on Arizona Roadside Attractions.  It’s amazing what you can find to go see on that site … coon hound grave yards, world’s biggest barbecue, to name a couple, and much of it is free. 

We were headed there, but also passed another piece of history … the Tom Mix Memorial, a black iron silhouette of a riderless bronco (Tony the Wonder Horse) that marks the site of his death.  The metal art was made by inmates at the Florence State Penitentiary and has had to be replaced at least three times as folks keep stealing it.  Tom Mix, and his wonder horse, Tony, were legends of that old western era that I love to read about and see. 
Words on the memorial.

Four-legged steed, iron steed.
Mix was a cowboy, the good guy, of course, mostly before movies became talkies.  He appeared in 300-370 movies, mostly westerns between 1909 and 1935 (all but nine were silent movies) and made as much as $10,000-15,000 a week, a lot of money for those days.  Mix may have worked as a cowboy, served as a soldier and been a Texas Ranger, so he could have been the real McCoy.  (There are opposing views on whether all of that is true, but it sounds good so I’ll use it.) However, once the talkies started being made he really didn’t do much after that. 
This was the auto that led to his death

A news account of what happened is posted on the memorial.
On Oct. 12, 1940, Mix was driving his custom-built, single-seat 812-supercharged Cord Phaeton roadster along a straight desert road, about 17 miles south of Florence, Arizona, where he had a ranch.  The bridge was out in a shallow gully, and under construction, when he apparently ignored or didn’t see and ran through construction signs and crashed.  Supposedly he walked away from the wreck but a heavy, unsecured suitcase on the rear shelf in the car fell and hit him, breaking his neck.  It’s a sad story.  He was a legend, and it’s always hard to lose someone to a tragedy like that. 

Tom Mix was a man of legends and many movies.

This photo of Mix and Tony is also attached to the memorial.
The memorial has photos of him and Tony and copies of the final news story about the crash.  The “suitcase of death” is preserved at the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma, along with a life-size replica of Tony the Wonder Horse.  Mix was born Jan. 6, 1880, in Pennsylvania, and died Oct. 12, 1940, at the age of 60.  His horse, Tony, lived two years to the day past Mix’s death, when he had to be put down at the old age of 37 or 42, depending on whose account you read.  Either way, Tony lived a long life and a good one as a star, and a retiree. 
The Casa Grande Ruins were a find, though, unknown to me and a national park to boot so I got to use my Senior Park Pass again.  Even better, they weren’t too far from our final destination for the day, Sun City and the Peeps, other dear friends that I’ve known for more than 30 years.

I couldn't pass up a shot of another saguaro.
Casa Grande means “great house,” which is the name given to the ruins by early Spanish explorers.  By modern standards these ruins may not seem large, but at the time they were great.  The Great House is four stories high and 60 feet long.  This is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert. 

An old photo prior to the canopy.

The house is built of caliche, a concrete-like mix of sand, clay and calcium carbonate (limestone).  It took 3,000 tons to build the Great House and it has four-foot-thick walls at the base that taper toward the top.  Trees that were carried or floated 60 miles down the Gila River are anchored in the wall and timbers formed ceiling or floor supports.
The walls face the four cardinal points of the compass and a circular hole in the upper west wall aligns with the setting sun at the summer solstice.  Other openings align with the sun and moon at specific times. 

You can see one of the openings to the top left.
In 1932 a steel and concrete canopy was built to protect the Great House.  There are also other remains of an ancient Hohokam-era farming village.  Hohokam is a name incorrectly translated from the ancestors called Huhugham.  But today Hohokam is a term used by archeologists to define a cultural period.

The canopy costs more to maintain now per year than the original $28,000 cost of construction.
The origins of these people lay with hunter-gatherers who lived in Arizona for several thousand years.  The people also grew food and developed an irrigation canal system diverting water from the Salt and Gila rivers.  Like the Panama Canal system, the hydro system developed for Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley and this irrigation system, it’s incredible how smart people were and how they developed things to make their living easier, or just living in general.  It’s been a great trip, seeing, experiencing, learning.

Then we were hightailing it to the Peeps, Ken and Judi, where we spent a couple of nights.  We went to a spring training baseball game between the White Sox and the Mariners.  The final score was 7-6, Sox.

A few days relaxing, and me getting the compensator (and a whole lot of other parts) replaced (and thank you, extended warranty), and we were back on the road, heading to Kingman, Arizona, to meet Karl, Jaz’s friend from Lake Havasu, and Chuck from Alaska and Dewey from Yukon.

The nice thing about no real schedule is just that … you can do what you want.  We met up with the boys and decided to spend the night with Karl.  Dining in was just the thing with pizza and ice cream, two of my favorite foods.  We had such a nice, comfortable visit sitting out in Karl’s Arizona room, or patio, or whatever you call it.  I got cold, and he handed me a blanket.  It must have gotten down into the 70s.  Brrrrrr.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nothing like a cactus to keep you alert

From the biosphere, we traveled toward part of the Saguaro National Park, home of the giant cactus … beautiful in its own way.  In getting there, we passed some military facility that is home to what appears to be hundreds of mothballed planes (and who knows what else).  They’re all lined up in near-perfect order, some with all their little pointy white noses facing in one direction.  Jaz and I passed by this and photographed it a couple of times because they all looked so cool.  But I didn’t get any photo that I thought was the “money shot.”  Oh well.

Head's ...

or tail's ...
On to the cactus … the saguaro cactus is regal, stately, majestic … all that you’d never quite expect to see in a cactus.  The saguaro exists today because there were some local residents who had the foresight to plan for the future as in the 1920s there was a rush to develop and use land for grazing.  The mature cacti were chopped to make way for new roads and livestock trampled seedlings.  Afraid that the saguaro would be lost forever, Saguaro National Park was created, protecting the giants for generations. 
There were thousands of saguaro cacti in previous times.
The Saguaro National Park consists of two areas, with about a 30-mile separation that houses Tucson.  The entire park covers about 91,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, and includes not only the saguaro giants but other cacti, desert trees, shrubs and animals.  This area is one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent with summer midday temperatures commonly climbing above 100 degrees F., and gets less than 12 inches of rain in a typical year.  Between the rainy seasons months may pass without a drop of rain.
There are all kinds of cactus here, and some flowers were even blooming, making for a beautiful scene.

And we had perfect weather, too ... blue sky and warm temperatures, but not too warm.

These are particularly nasty cactus ... and I didn't venture too near except with a longer lens.
 Saguaros, as well as other desert plants and animals, are specially adapted for survival.  But what’s most intriguing about them is that they are one of the most noticed symbol of the Southwest, and appear to have personalities.  They have odd, almost human shapes, and that can inspire a lot of fanciful thoughts. 

The closest one here looks like it has little short bunny ears on top.

This one has ample arms to reach out to touch someone.
The cactus, as we learned, doesn’t begin to sprout “arms” until it’s about 75 years old, and saguaros live on average, 200 years, often dying from old age.  A mature saguaro that lives 150 years or more may tower 50 feet tall and weigh 16,000 pounds or more.  They provide a fig-like fruit, edible seeds and a woody-type rib that was used by the O'odham to build fences and shelters.

This one looks like it has an arm on either side and a big, bulbous nose sticking out.  It's thought that extreme temperatures, including 20 hours at less than freezing, will kill a saguaro.  They also die at the hands of animals who eat the seeds and seedlings, lightning, wind and droughts.

The little holes in the cactus are often made by Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers who drill nest holes in the trunks and larger branches.  They make new holes each spring, often making and rejecting several before settling in one to raise a family.  Other birds using the holes include Lucy's warblers, cactus wrens and American kestrels.
The saguaro cactus is surely a money shot no matter where you shoot, at what you shoot, or how many times you shoot.  The desert area where they live truly is beautiful in its own way, with some cactus-types flowering and others just waiting to put a sticker in you.  I was wearing my riding boots while I was out wandering around taking photos, but still ended up with a few stickers … glad they were in my boots and not my hands, legs, or other precious parts.

The prickers look and feel like porcupine quills.

Until recent years deaths outnumbered the new growth.  Saguaros produce millions of seeds but the odds are against survival.  Few grow to adulthood unless they are cared for by nurse trees, ones under which the saguaro grows.  They grow very slowly, and by year's end may only be a quarter-inch tall.  After 15 years they may only be 12 inches tall and at 50 years, about seven feet tall.  But if one does survive, the mighty saguaro dwarfs everything else in the desert as these are the largest cacti in the United States. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Living in a bubble

Tombstone was in our rear view mirrors as we headed north toward Catalina, Arizona.  We were going to visit Biosphere 2, a place Jaz had heard about.  I’m always in, and game for most anything I’ve not done before.

What was Biosphere 2?  I didn’t really know.  It’s said B2, as it’s known, is another modern marvel.  It’s currently a research facility used to study ecosystem processes under controlled conditions, including water, soil, air, sun with the hope of improving the quality of life for everyone.  Construction of the $150,000 million facility began in 1986 with the intent to research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.
Biosphere 2, which is now managed by the University of Arizona.  Originally the backing came from a private source which made this possible.  What an idea, concept, and final product.
Jaz and I signed up for a tour on Saturday, March 22, that would take us under the glass into the biomes, the various environment areas.  As we approached we looked at some futuristic-type of community, built in the shape of some weird pyramid, and all glass.  In fact, the glass-enclosed facility covers 3.14 acres and houses 7.2 million feet under 6,500 windows.  That’s a lot of glass to clean.  The highest point is 91 feet and the structure is sealed from the earth by a 500-ton welded stainless-steel liner.  There are thousands of miles of wiring, pipes and ductwork … and that’s just the minimum in facts.
The actual site and buildings.

There is a great beauty in these buildings.
There were two human missions, one of which was eight people who lived under glass (like pheasants), for two years, 20 minutes (20 minutes longer than the time they intended to be enclosed).  While they had to transplant many of the plants rather than start them from seeds so they'd have crops sooner, they farmed and raised animals for food, and were otherwise completely self-sufficient.  However, the mission had problems as the people lost weight mostly because of oxygen issues.  Twice oxygen had to be injected into the biosphere so they didn’t perish.  The oxygen levels went so low that they couldn’t complete most of their research and they could only work on providing themselves with food.  So, it was a sad time for them that they were only existing and not doing what they’d set out to accomplish.
The second mission only lasted about six months.
We were first shown a movie so we’d have the general idea of what B2 was all about.  Then we went on the walking tour.

We entered through submarine-style locks.
Water is the main focus of B2 research.  There is an ocean biome and we could see it from the top, as well as from underneath when we went below the surface.  It was pretty cool and quite beautiful.  It wasn’t as humid as it usually is inside these two areas and for that I was grateful.  The ocean biome is 26 feet deep and holds 670,000 gallons of salt water.  It acts just like the ocean, and has fish and growth in it.
The ocean biome is quite beautiful, but not so much so that I wanted to take a dive into it.

This is the other end of the ocean biome, and there's a waterfall.
We also went into the rain forest biome that includes more than 90 species of plants.  Some of them are more than 60 feet tall.  While the people were enclosed there were two monkey-like creatures called galagos (also known as bush babies … or little night monkeys in Afrikaans) in the rain forest.  One thing no one had thought of was that with no walls separating some of the biomes, the galagos could travel and they did, causing problems wherever they went.  They didn’t fare too well with electrical items and so on.  I don’t think they lasted too long.  I’m sure they were turd-chuckers, too, just like regular monkeys.  Yuck!!!
The plants were beneath us and towering over our heads.  You could see a small waterfall in the not-so-far distance.  It was beautiful but there was something growing in there that made me sneeze.  I’ve done a lot of sneezing on this trip … different plants in bloom at a different time of year from when I’m usually down here in July/August.

The rain forest was a place of beauty and not too humid on this day.

Long strands of plant life dangle and you hope you'd not have to try to make a path through it.  I was not carrying a machete.
A point of interest was that rainforests are called nature’s skyscrapers because they are like a tall building with a low level, a canopy and then the high layer some 200 feet above the ground.  It’s pretty impressive to see all of this plant life within a glass structure because it’s huge.
The desert biome was interesting because I was already in the desert and what appeared to be a Saguaro cactus was not.  I believe she said it had come from California. 

There are still tests and studies being done and this one was in the desert biome.
We wandered through underground tunnels that made me think I was in some strange space-type movie, or maybe an undersea movie.  The tunnels actually connect the lungs to B2 (see the photo below).

This is one of two "lungs," located at either end of B2.  The lungs are one of many great engineering achievements as B2 was designed to be well-sealed and isolated from the outside environment.  The lungs regulate changes in pressure rather like big bellows, or your lungs (hence the name).  As there are no pressure relief valves if there were too much heat and the air expanded, B2 could explode; likewise, if the air were too cool and contracted, B2 could implode. Inside the lungs a giant synthetic rubber membrane with a circular metal disk floats freely on a cushion of air.  It rises and falls as the air expands and contracts.   We saw them moving up and down as air moved through, heating and cooling.  It was pretty neat to see.
In all, there are five biomes, rain forest, ocean, desert, savannah and marsh.  It’s a very neat place to visit and one that I’d not have thought of myself.  We also saw where the biospherians lived, their kitchen, common area and private areas.  There will continue to be studies and research, and I only hope it won’t be too late as we have so many people on the earth, and it seems as though we aren’t slowing down.  Too many people, too little food, and eventually we will cease to exist.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Bird Cage Theatre ... the Old Tombstone

We rode into Tombstone late afternoon on our steel steeds (Thursday, March 20) and got set up at our hotel, aptly named the Tombstone Hotel.  It was a short walk to the main street where there’s usually a lot going on, but it closes down pretty early, which is about when we arrived.  Like Sturgis, during the motorcycle rally, it’s closed off to vehicles.  At least those that are motorized. 

One attraction that was not yet closed for the evening was the Bird Cage Theatre.  It’s one of the West’s most famous landmarks and a trip into an era seen only in wild west movies.   It’s a registered national monument, and therefore a piece of history, so of course, Jaz and I wanted to explore it further.

The Bird Cage Theatre doesn't look that large on the outside, but it houses a large collection of history, and was the place of many happenings back in the 1880s.
The Bird Cage was a famous honkytonk between 1881 and 1889.  It’s said that it was the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast, operating 24/7/365 for nine years.  It was a theatre, brothel, dance hall, saloon, gambling hall … a true den of iniquity.  We had to see this.

We walked into the lobby area that began our trip back into time and were met with a famous bar painting of Fatima, which has hung in the same location since 1882.  It stands nine feet high and carries the scars of six bullet holes. Fatima was the stage name for a woman who played the Bird Cage in 1881 and this painting was a gift from her to the theatre.

Back then  women were the size of women with curvaceous figures. 
We were greeted by a gentleman who had stepped through a time warp.  He could have played any part -- a card dealer, a photographer, an undertaker.  He asked if we’d like to see the museum, because that is what the Bird Cage is. Yep.  We paid our money, and entered through the door that sent us further back in time, back to 1881, or maybe a few years later.  Doubt not, my friends, we may have been living in the 2000s, but we were now tossed into the 1880s, a time when a mining boom was taking place and miners needed a way to spend their hard-earned silver and coin.   

The Bird Cage was named for the 14 bird cage crib compartments suspended from the ceiling and overhanging the gambling casino and dance hall.  Ladies of the night were in these compartments and called to and tempted the men to sample their wares as they drank below.

As we wandered through we could see that this building, the Bird Cage Theatre, is a piece of western lore like none other.  That’s because it is not a building that has been rebuilt or reproduced for some Hollywood spaghetti western (although I do love those).  The Bird Cage is the real deal, the real building, the actual piece of history that you can see, taste and feel.  It’s a building that helped build the reputation of Tombstone, and is known for being the sight of 16 gunfights and having 140 bullet holes riddling the walls and ceilings.  It was known for its onstage entertainment, including cancan dancers and risqué performances; however, it also hosted national headliners of the time … including Eddie Foy and Lotta Crabtree, comedians, vaudevillians, actor/actress, entertainers.

This grand piano has sat in the same spot at the Bird Cage since 1881.  It was used by a five-piece band that played the Bird Cage Theatre from 1881 through 1889, providing music for shows and dances.  It's built from rosewood and is hand-carved.  It was the first piano to arrive in Tombstone, being shipped around the horn of South America to San Francisco.  It was brought to Tombstone via mule train.
On the other side of the page, the ladies of Tombstone would never venture to the Bird Cage, and it’s said they’d cross the street and not even walk near the building so as to not be tainted by its character nor its patrons.  That’s a building with a true wicked reputation.  It’s the kind you want to see, to be immersed in.

Now I think I know why the term "Shady Lady" is used.
The main floor has artifacts from those times that were hard … living, loving, dying.  Nothing was easy, although I’m sure many thought it was much easier than a life they may have had in even earlier times or miles from the town.  There are cooking utensils, sepia-toned photos from days when photos were a modern marvel, bullet holes in the walls, and photos of famous people who played there including Enrico Caruso.  There’s so much history in this small building one cannot take it all in.

The main floor is full of items of history.
We walked over old wooden floors, saw lighting fixtures, chandeliers, drapes that are the original décor.  You could look up and see the rooms where the ladies did their entertaining.  In fact, there’s a bar and a dumbwaiter close by that was used to send drinks upstairs to the ladies of the night and their men friends.

The upstairs cubbies were used by the ladies and their gentlemen.

The gambling tables and chairs downstairs look as though their occupants will return at any moment to take up the game where it left off.  There’s crumpled up bills, coins, shot glasses, beer mugs.  It’s all just the way it was left when it was sealed and boarded up in 1889 after the great flood.  The great flood was when a subterranean water way broke through the 500-foot level of the mines, flooding them so the miners could not mine the silver.  Pumps were brought in but even those could not handle the volume of water.  No mine, no silver, no town.  Wow. 

One of my favorite photos was of a “license” for the BC Red Light District, House of Ill Fame, signed by Wyatt Earp.  Those were the days, and I believe it’s hard for many to get their heads around that in our times.  It seems that so much of our history is not believed by many of the younger crowd these days.  And that’s why it’s so important to not lose that history and the pieces that show the younger generations what it was really all about.

Licenses were issued for houses of ill repute.
The downstairs also houses an old hearse … the power item in the museum.  This is the original hearse used to haul bodies to Boothill Graveyard from 1881 to 1917.   All but six bodies were taken to Boothill in this hearse.  It’s said to be worth more than $1,000,000, with trim of sterling silver and 24-carat-gold-leaf.  (Twenty-four-carat gold is pure gold.)  Built by Cunningham Bros. of Rochester, New York, at a cost of $8,000 each, there were only eight of these models built in 1881.  This is the last one left from the original eight. 

The famous hearse, used to give that last ride to most of those buried in Boothill.
The entrance to Boothill Graveyard.
 I thoroughly enjoyed the museum and the slice of history it offers and think anyone visiting Tombstone would appreciate this walk back through time.

As I was leaving, I asked who could give me permission to use the above photos.  A Mr. William Hunley.  As it turns out I was speaking to his son who was kind enough to edit my story for accuracy, and to grant permission.  Thank you, Billy Hunley.

(Information provided by the Bird Cage Theatre and Billy Hunley of Tombstone.)