When looking around for places to take Paul while he was visiting and working on building the library, my mind turned to Kartchner Caverns. I had visited the first year it opened, back when there was only one room ready for visitors. Back then reservations needed to be made months in advance, so I didn't delay after making sure Paul would be interested.
It turns out he hadn't been in a "good" cave since he was little, when on a camping trip I took the kids to Ruby Falls in Tennessee while we lived in Georgia. When I inquired of Steve, though only after checking on accessibility issues (yes, they take small scooters, like mine), it turns out that he had never been in a cave. OK, guy, Merry Christmas then! Considering we would be taking three people, two dogs, a scooter and a cooler for sandwiches, all in my little hatchback, I made reservations online for just two. Plus a mental note to pack my Kindle. It's pricey enough that I didn't do the tour this time. And there was no place for a second scooter in the car, not to mention is would have been too big to take some of the turns anyway.
There will be more chances.
The drive down was pleasant enough. We avoided the worst of rush hour by taking the 101 up north and around, avoiding downtown/airport traffic. Once we headed away from the metro area, the air cleared up a bit so we could see surrounding mountains without a bottom band of yellowish haze. With our timing being as good as I'd hoped, we headed first for Tombstone and a quick tour of Boot Hill. It's free, but the entrance is through the gift shop, hint hint. I did find one perfect thing for a X-mas present for somebody I won't name, plus a great refrigerator magnet: a buzzard requesting we send more tourists down that way as the last ones were delicious.
They have recently done some work to refurbish the place, going from old records as best they could. They can't promise every marker is in exactly the right place, after decades of neglect and only having wooden markers, but they think all are within three feet or so. There are some marked unknown, some with a single name, most with only the year of death, not birth. It turns out 1882 was a good year to die. Some were murdered, occasionally listing by whom, a few suicides, one case of diphtheria. While several markers bear colorful messages, my favorite is: "Here lies Lester Moore, 4 shots from a 44. No Les, No more."
We only had time for a short stay. Our reservations for Kartchner were for 2:30 and they request that you check in an hour before your tour. The roads between the two were an unknown, and I knew there would be at least one (there were two) border patrol check station on the way, as close to Mexico as we were. I wanted to leave sufficient time. The tour takes nearly two hours and I'd signed them up for the last tour of the day. No making it up if late.
Once at Kartchner, we split up. The guys headed for the tour check-in desk, and I hit the gift shop. Some of you will see what I picked out for you. (Hey, it won't be jewelry again until next year, after I've taken a couple classes in new techniques. The first starts next Monday, not enough time to learn, create, and ship.) One thing surprised me about the shop. They stocked a wide variety of Mata Ortiz pottery. Their biggest piece was about the size of my smallest, and their smallest were priced about what my largest and best cost me from eBay. I didn't do more than appreciate theirs. The cashier was surprised to find out that Mata Ortiz is available in wide variety on eBay, and they may well have a new customer.
I returned to the car with my two bagfuls of goodies, dug out my Kindle, and got about 10 pages before a nap seemed much the better idea. It's not that the book is boring, just very detailed in history and who's in which clan and which plot they're involved in on whose side. It needs attention. Ellie tried to keep me alerted to every person, dog, or bird that passed by. Somehow she thinks I need to know that, awake or asleep.
The guys returned unexpectedly early. They had arrived early enough to take advantage of an opening in the 1:45 group instead of waiting for the 2:30 group, and enjoyed being in a group of only 6 adults. There were also school groups touring, so lucky them. Doubly lucky in that nobody was a block away from the guide and unable to hear what was being said. When Steve scootered up to the car, I asked him how he liked it.
"WOW! Just WOW!"
Then he scootered back to the gift shop for a hat.
There was still plenty of light left on the way back, until after we passed Casa Grande. Then we got treated to the sight of all the lights scattered over the seemingly empty desert, or what looks empty by day.
When we hit the metro, I took a detour on Chandler to head back behind South Mountain, since this is the X-mas lights season. I was gratified to see that they have done this year what I appreciated the first year I was down here, trying to earn a living, when I stumbled on the neighborhood after dark. If you want to see it yourself, just head west off 10 on Chandler. Ray (also a freeway exit) joins it about three miles in, and Chandler turns straight west again. Another quarter mile and suddenly you are in a winter wonderland. All the lights are white, and they cover every saguaro and tree trunk both on the center of the boulevard and sides of the street. They have arranged clumps of lights in the tree canopies so it looks like they are either flowering or fruiting. It goes on for about a mile or more, and the effect is well worth a drive.
The whole thing was about 12 hours and 450 miles. I am beginning to learn how to drive like an Arizonan, meaning 10-15 mph over the posted limit. There were still a lot of cars passing me, in case you thought I was a maniac. I was happy to find out that my muscles have not completely adapted away from driving long distances comfortably, even happier at lowered gas prices. And the guys kept me entertained on the drive back with such details as the difference between varied shapes of bacon and curtains - or maybe they were called draperies? - in the cave formations.