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The Thing, Dragoon AZ

Louise Speaks:  Heading out of Tucson and on our way to another State Park, we decided to see some Quirky Sights along the way.  If you’ve ever driven East on I-10 you have seen the billboards for “The Thing”.  It has been said that there are 322 billboards for The Thing between El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ.   I myself must have seen these billboards at least 100 times yet never got off the freeway to go see it.  But today we were going to obey the signs and exit the freeway.  Located in the town of Dragoon, AZ at exit 322 it is known as the Mystery of the Desert,


The Thing, starts off by being a huge gift shop.  The shop features just about everything and anything.  But where was the thing?  I had done some research and it said it was in the back room.  The gift shop was currently under construction so I thought maybe that was the back room.  After walking the store and not seeing anything out of the ordinary,  I finally broke down and ask the gal at the counter.  She told me The Thing was in a box in the back corner, so off we go.


In the corner in, a coffin like box with a glass top, was what looked like a mummified woman and child.  The exhibit is believed to have been made by exhibit creator  Homer Tate for sideshows.  The Thing was purchased by former lawyer Thomas Binkley Prince in the mid-twentieth century, who quickly based a tourist attraction around the strange object. Although Prince died in 1969, the attraction was run by his wife Janet for many years. Today, the site is under the ownership of Bowlin Travel Centers.  Despite its remoteness, the attraction has been popular; it has appeared in several tourist guides, and has been the subject of several news stories and reports.

Many things I have read said they charge $1 admission, but that is not true.  Since it is a gift shop it is hidden so not really an attraction.  And the best part of whole thing, is that there is a Dairy Queen at the travel center, so another reason to stop.  The Thing was on our list of Quirky things to see but to be honest, unless you want a Dairy Queen, there is no reason to stop.


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Colosal Caves, Vail, AZ.

Louise Speaks:  Once again, trying to get out of the city of Tucson, just 22 miles SE on Interstate 10, are the Colosal Caves. Now we have been to many caves in Arizona and Missouri and this one wasn’t much different.  The cave contains about 3.5 miles  of mapped passageways, and was discovered by Soloman Lick in 1879.  Temperatures inside average about 70 °F  year-round.  Most caves are cooler, but since the Colosal Caves are drying up and there is no moisture it felt hotter than most other caves we’ve visited.

In the late 1800s, known as the Cowboy Days, stories were told of train robbers and escaped convicts who used the caves as a hiding place. Perhaps the most famous were John Maier and Josiah “Kid” Smith who were eventually shot by the Wells Fargo Messenger, J. Ernest Smith.  A third bandit of the group that had robbed a train near El Paso named George Green was captured and sentenced to five years at the Yuma Territorial Prison, (see separate post).

    Our guide described the caves as “Dry”, and what this means is that the formations are completely dry, or “dead”, and do not grow.  This is because the cave was formed by water depositing limestone, but this source has disappeared.  It instead feeds the “active” nearby Arkenstone Cave that continues to grow formations.  The Arkenstone Cave is only open to researchers.    Solomon Lick, was the owner of the nearby Mountain Springs Hotel.  He was searching for stray cattle when he discovered the entrance to the cave.  That same entrance has been enlarged within a modern setting that overlooks the panoramic views of La Posta Quemada Ranch into over 2,000 acres of Colossal Cave Mountain Park.  Once discovered, the cave was  used as a guano source, and a tunnel, 82 feet long, was built in 1905.  A total of seven train cars of guano were filled during construction.  The deposit was soon exhausted, and the tunnel was abandoned.

In the parking lot of the Colosal Caves is the opening on how supplies were lowered into the cave to make the paths, stairs, railings and electrical sources.  Trucks would back up to this opening and lower or carry down all the necessary supplies and equipment that was needed.  From the inside of the cave you can see the original ladder that was used to bring the supplies into the cave.  Since the ladder was made of wood it is no longer safe to use and has been sectioned off.  The opening to the parking lot has also been sealed off, but the the roof top still remains.


Today the cave is a popular tourist destination as part of Colossal Cave Mountain Park.   The park also features two other caves, named Arkenstone and La Tetera, which are protected and are being studied by researchers.  Out of the 9 in our group today, only 3 of us decided to take the cave tour.  You can’t really say you’ve been here unless, you take the tour right?  The tour route is a half mile long and takes about 45 to 50 minutes to complete.  Our guide gave us  the Cave’s history, legends, and geology.  During the tour we had to walk down and back up about
six and a half stories, a total of 363 stair steps.  But what we saw were beautiful cave formations like stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, boxwork, and helictites.  Tours are given daily, on the hour, year-round, and are very reasonably priced.  No special clothing is needed in the Cave, which  like I said earlier, is always about 70 degrees and dry.  This cave also allows you to take pictures inside.


Colossal Cave has never been fully explored.  Although there is an estimated 39 miles of cave tunnels, it took over two years to map just two miles of passageway where tours penetrate six stories deep into the cave.  When you decide on taking a tour, you can choose from ongoing daily generic tours or you can arrange more adventurous tours through darkened more narrow passages requiring hardhats and good physical fitness.  There are even candlelight tours where each visitor is given a lighted candle to experience the cave as the Hohokam did over a thousand years ago without electric-powered lights.  We of course took the generic tour.

This was a good way to spend the day.  While we took the tour the other members of our group wandered the grounds and hiked the trails through the Sonoran Deseret.  There were descriptions of desert plant life, trees, cacti, and they were even able to pan for gemstones.  There was plenty  to do here besides the cave tour.  There is also an outdoor cafe that serves snacks and beer and wine…how bad can this place be.  This was an interesting cave and I would recommend going, but once you’ve seen it, you probably don’t need to go back, unless you want to go at at different time of year when the bats are present…now that could be interesting. That being said, the Colosal Caves gets a C rating and it is worth going to see.

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Mount Lemmon, Catalina Scenic Byway, Tucson, AZ

Louise Speaks:  The RV club had scheduled a trip to Tucson.  The couple that was hosting the trip had asked for help, so Thelma offered her assistance…this means we HAD to go to Tucson.  Now those that know me, know that I rarely go to Tucson and I have strict guide lines like no eating, sleeping or breathing etc etc.  But here we are for 5 days.  I’m going to make the best of it and enjoy what I can.  The idea is to be out of Tucson as much as possible.

We have good friends here at the RV Park with us who tow a vehicle (we don’t) so they always drive us around to things we want to see.  Today’s adventure was to the top  of Mount Lemmon.  It’s a good thing we decided to go today and not yesterday because the roads were closed due to 8 inches of snow on the top of the mountain.

The beautiful, curving road is a favorite drive for tourists, and locals escaping the summer’s heat.  The drive up the mountain was breathtaking.  We went from cactus to pine trees in a matter of minutes.  The rock formations were indescribable.  Some looked like they could topple  over any minute.  We also came in contact with many many bicyclist making the trip up the climbing mountain.   Local cycling organizations regularly organize rides consisting of 200 or more riders along the highway to the summit of the mountain.  The top of the summit has an elevation of 9,159  feet.  Once you reach the top you will find the small village of Summerhaven.  The Catalina Hwy, that takes you to Summerhaven, gains over 6,000 feet in just 12 miles.  Due to the rapid gain in elevation there are numerous switchbacks, but the road follows a generally northward direction until reaching Summerhaven.  This looked like a very difficult ride for all the bicyclists we came in contact with, however, going down should be a piece of cake….hope they have good brakes.  The Mount Lemmon highway, which is traveled by over 1 million visitors each year, was designated a Scenic Byway on April 28, 1995.





The summit of the mountain is approximately thirty degrees cooler than the base.  Therefore, large amounts of snow falls during the winter months, making it a cool escape and popular tourist attraction for Tucson and Phoenix inhabitants.  It is reported that Mount Lemmon Ski Valley,  on the mountain’s northeastern side, receives 200 inches of snow annually.  Today, the chair lifts were running but we didn’t see any skiers.  Ski Valley operates the ski slope during the winter months and remains open during the summer, offering summer “sky rides” on the ski lifts.  Ski Valley has been named as the southernmost ski resort in the continental United States.


Some residents do live on Mount Lemmon full time making that trip up  and down the mountain on a regular basis.  However, the majority of homes on Mount Lemmon are used for summer rentals.  Many cabins were destroyed in the Aspen Fire in 2003, but have rebuilt since then.  As of the   2010 cencus, Sumerhaven had a permanent population of 40.  While in Summerhaven we stopped for lunch at the cutest chalet.  The food was great and different…like meat loaf and grilled corn, and the service was excellent,  There are also a few gift shops and other types of shops on the main street through town.  As we were driving through town we came across a family of wild turkeys just strolling down the street.  When I got out to take a photo, they quickly ran up the hill.  Look very closely and you can see the turkey.

This was actually a great way to spend the day.  It was in the high 70’s when we left Tucson, and we were in the 40’s in Summerhaven.  We even had a chance to throw a few snowballs while roaming through town.  Even though I have lived in Arizona for many years I had never taken this scenic drive.  As much as I dislike Tucson, I do recommend taking this drive if you are ever in the Tucson area…it’s a great way to spend a day and don’t forget to have lunch at the Sawmill Run Restaurant.  The Catalina Hwy,up Mount Lemmon gets an A rating.  Like I said, it’s a great way to spend the day!