Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Rocks, Wine and Pecans in the Southwest

Having spent the last month in Phoenix, Arizona, the Twosna Travelers are now officially snowbirds. Snowbirds are people who spend the warmer months in the upper regions of the United States and “flock” to the Southern states when it becomes cooler. We’ve spent 95% of our lives living in places with cold winters. I realized I didn’t like cold weather around the time I was in high school, while Cal has only recently arrived at this realization.

But if one is going to winter in Arizona, one has to get there first.

A lot of folks will zip from El Paso, Texas on interstate 10 to Tucson or Phoenix without giving anything a second look. We did stop in El Paso, but it was only to leave Sam (our 5th wheel trailer) plugged in and snoozing peacefully there for a week while we drove to Denver for Thanksgiving with our family. We’ll have to give El Paso more of a look another time.

On the way back from our Thanksgiving trip, we stopped off for dinner in a little no-name restaurant in a little no-name town just north of El Paso. This cute little house was right next to where we parked.

Deming, New Mexico

What drew me to Deming was the idea of going to Rockhound State Park, located just southeast of the town. At this park, one can just pick up rocks and keep them, unlike any other state or national park I have been to. Geodes, jasper, onyx, agates, and perlite are some of the rocks that can be found. Upon doing further research, however, I realized that the best rocks are to be found only on the remote trails, and they have already been dug pretty deeply. A person would need to have a pickax slung over their shoulder as they hiked, and some pretty good equipment back at home to split them open. Despite my interest, I have total ignorance on the subject, and would have rocks in my head to think that I should add more heavy rocks (and weight) to Sam’s load. Cal politely pointed none of this out, but let me figure it all out all on my own. So I contented myself with the nature trail in the park, and picked up a few small little rocks that fit in my pocket to add to my growing collection.

Still wanting to learn at least a little more on the subject, we stopped at a rock shop outside of the park. The ancient proprietor of the establishment was more than happy to have someone to talk about rocks with. My rocks are garden variety rhiolytes, formed as the result of (surprise, surprise) volcanic activity. He used to pull out a lot of geodes with his partner, now passed, at his claim somewhere in New Mexico called Baker Egg Mine. He had some beautifully split and polished geodes, but all I wanted was a small one that had only been split – much easier on the budget. I’m not sure that I learned much, but I still like picking up pretty little rocks. I guess I don’t need to know what they are. The small oval one fits nicely in the palm of my hand, and is surprisingly smooth.

Spring Canyon – Rockhound State Park

The funny thing about all this is, while I thought Rockhound would be the highlight of our time in Deming, the highlight for me was actually the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, billed as “New Mexico’s largest free museum”. It is located in their old Armory, built just two months after the famous Pancho Villa Raid in 1916. It became a USO during war time, and then the museum with its repository of many collections. And yes, a large collection of…rocks.

Thundereggs straight from our rock shop proprietor’s mine

The Mimbres people lived in this area as far back as 1000 AD. Their pottery is something Deming is very proud of, as can be seen in this mural and fountain in downtown Deming:

There were pieces just like these in the museum

Whenever I’m under an outcropping of rock just like this, I always like to imagine how the people lived who took shelter there. This painting did a fine job of showing that.

The museum went on and on. There was a huge doll collection, rooms with antique furniture, storefronts showing actual Deming turn-of-the-century establishments and what would have been there, and many other varied collections from area residents over the years.

We passed some time in a couple of local wineries, and restocked our wine cellar. Lescombes Winery was a large establishment and their parking lot was so large that we could have stayed the night there (for the price of a bottle of wine or a tasting, of course). The wine was good, but we preferred the wine at Luna Rossa. They weren’t such a large commercial operation and their wines were cheaper and complementary to our (un)sophisticated wine palate.

Willcox, Arizona

Full-time RVing, fun as it may seem, is still full of the ups and downs of ordinary life. One of the downers for us is the on-going trouble we’ve had with our left front jack erroring out during leveling, and the amount of battery power needed just to get Sam up and down off of Frodo’s (the truck’s) hitch. It got worse with every stop we made. Our stop at the Willcox KOA was supposed to be one overnight, but we canceled some plans and made the decision to stay for five, so that our arrival in Phoenix would be our last until some repairs were made.

KOA parks can be good or bad, depending on who is running them. This is true especially of KOAs located just off the highways of America, usually used for only an overnight stop. The Willcox KOA is indeed off the highway, but when learning of our situation, the kind folks put us in a spot furthest away from it, with a much-coveted tree on the site. It’s pictured at the top of this post. We watched people painting and upkeeping the grounds every day. There is a restaurant (with excellent gyros) and a heated pool on-site. Just this past week, I read a newsletter from the KOA national organization which named this park a “rising star” in the franchise for 2021, and I would definitely agree.

What softened the blow for having to stay in Willcox was being able to visit Chiracahua National Monument, 40 miles away. We lived in Arizona for a couple of years back in the 80’s, and one of our favorite tent-camping stories is from a weekend we spent there. One evening, a pair of skunks wandered through our site while we were sitting in our lawn chairs. We froze in place, not daring to move, as they sniffed around and actually passed right underneath us. We were lucky we didn’t get sprayed! It was fun to drive through the campground again, a wooded oasis right under the tall rock cliffs, but we wouldn’t be able to stay there in our 5th wheel. Chiracahua is an other-worldly, magical place:

The rocks at Chiracahua are in columns, pinnacles, and balanced rock
“Claret Cup” rock, which shows how impossibly a lot of the rocks are balanced.
“Organ Pipes”

We had an audience for our picnic lunch at Chiracahua:

A spotted towhee and a Mexican jay eying our lunch
Three birds, plus one in the bush. At one time we had seven birds all watching us, hoping for a handout. We had some fresh crusty bread so I hope they were happy with the crumbs we left.

Starting in Roswell, New Mexico, but also in southwest Texas, southern New Mexico, and now Arizona, we saw a lot of pecan farms. In Roswell in early November, the leaves were still green on the trees. By the time we got to Texas, the leaves that we saw on the trees were changing color. There was a farm near our KOA, so we had a nice chat with Paul and Jackie Lee. They were happy to take us around. I’m munching on their pecans as I write. In mid-December, they were only three weeks away from harvest. This is a very small operation, so they send the picked nuts out to New Mexico and Texas for processing, then the shelled nuts are returned to them. They are then placed in one of several chest freezers for sale all year round, until the next harvest.

The nuts can’t be harvested until all the trees lose their leaves. Some nuts fall in the process, so when the leaves are raked, Paul puts everything (minus the leaves) into this separator to get the rocks and other debris out. He welded this contraption together himself, like so much of his equipment.
Final result..and the real harvest hasn’t even started
The orchard is the Lee’s retirement project and they planted all the trees themselves in the early 80’s. The trees are now in their prime.
Almost ready for harvest; the outside pods have to be open, like most of these are, and the nuts inside have to be dry. They were expecting a bumper crop.

Like Deming, Willcox also has a healthy amount of wineries, but as we were already extended on our wine budget, we limited our purchases to pecans. By the way, if I have made you hungry for pecans, the Lee’s pecans can be purchased on-line. Who knew this was such a good climate for growing grapes and pecans?

Cal was nursing a cold during our Willcox stay so this was pretty much the extent of our activities. I entertained myself with many enjoyable walks into the desert around our KOA. I’ll leave you for now with some of the pictures from those walks.

What a big, fluffy bush! The un-fluffy part looked like bittersweet, the tiny white “filler flowers” in a bouquet of flowers from the florist.
A very late autumn burst of color

Next time – Phoenix!

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