Mike Breiding's Epic Road Trips: December 1996

Christmas Vacation in Southern Arizona

Betsy and I spend 10 days hiking, biking and sight seeing in Southern Arizona

While going through some boxes of old personal items I unearthed some of my early scribblings. There was the recently webulized "The Fort Wayne Report" along with a travelogue for a winter vacation which Betsy and I went on in 1996. Also found was a 6 page single spaced write up for 2 days in San Francisco in December of 1995. Talk about long winded.

At the time I wrote those three pieces I did not have a web site to publish them on so I had to content myself with sending out paper copies, emailing the few people I knew who had email accounts and also publishing on a statewide online service know as WISe. There is more on WISe below.

There were also two pieces from 1991 which were printed in "The Mountain Chat", the newsletter of the Mountaineer Chapter of the Audubon Society. One piece is titled "Cheap Chic and Avian Nutrition", the other is entitled "The Return of the Winged Rat".
Since we are not doing any travelling this summer and I have been getting itchy fingers, I decided, for better or worse, to webulize these four pieces. "The Fort Wayne Report" is up and now we have here our "Christmas Vacation in Southern Arizona" in December of 1996.

Not content with just posting the journal entries for Betsy and myself, I decided to delve into the past and put down on "paper" some things I had not thought about in years.
Here we go...

It was 1995. The World Wide Web was just getting off the ground. You could get in if you had a modem and access. I got in early with a free server login account with the Mon Valley Tri-State Leadership Academy which then had an office in Morgantown. At that time I had started up a PC Users group with regular meetings and workshops so the folks at the Academy brought me on board as the nerdy/techy type. This was volunteer work.
During the same time I was also volunteering as online and phone tech support (those pesky modem init strings!) of what was then called "WISe". Or, WNPB's Information Service. WNPB was the local public television station here in Morgantown WV and WISe as an extension of their educational services and a way for West Virginias to more easily communicate and collaborate. It was a network portal of sorts and was primarily user driven through its interactive interface.
My "boss", Tami Stalnaker, was an enthusiastic and tireless promoter of WISe. I am not sure how Tami and I met but it sure was interesting working with her and being a part of WISe.

The WNPB Information Service (WISe) is a statewide network operated by West Virginia public television. The service includes e-mail, conferences on various subjects, and education and government information.
Although WISe is not the Internet and doesn't necessarily substitute for other on-line services, there are many benefits the service provides. Information, direct communication and statewide conferencing are examples. Many organizations use WISe to communicate among members, saving expensive travel and meeting costs. The service is compatible with either Macintosh or IBM/DOS operating systems.
A modem is necessary for dialing into the network. Users also need the system software to access the information on the network. West Virginians can use the WISe system at no cost. The network is accessible through a no-cost number: 800 375-4064. The software necessary for downloading is also available at no charge.
For more information, a Help Desk is in operation from 2:00-4:00 pm daily at (304) 293-6511.

Source: Mountain Promise Vol. 6, No. 2 The Newsletter of the Brushy Fork Institute - Fall, 1995

As I mentioned above, when I first started doing some scribbling in the 90s I needed an outlet. A place to publish as it were. WISe offered me a way to distribute the material through the email service they offered to registered users. I also mailed material out and sent it out via public email to those few people I knew who had email accounts. Remember AOL? "You've got mail!".

The Breiding Family Connection to Tucson

OK. Now that we know why I am publishing writing that is nearly 30 years old, let's talk about the vacation to Tucson Betsy and I took in December of 1996.
Why Tucson? Well, in 1996 I had relatives there and still do. These relatives were family from my mom's side. The Rector family.

The Rectors lived in the formerly small town of West Jefferson OH which is about 20 miles west of now sprawling Columbus. The Rector family was Marcus, father, carpenter and cobbler, and Libby, mother and homemaker. The children: Mildred the eldest, next were brothers Alvie and Frank and the youngest was Jane, my mom.

In the early to mid 1940s Mildred, husband Clinton and their adopted son Christopher moved to Tucson hoping this would help Christopher's asthma.

I knew some of this already. What had me puzzled but should have been obvious is why the remaining relatives now in Tucson were not blood kin. Of course mom's sister Mildred would have been blood kin, but the remaining relatives in Tucson were not. Why?

By a circuitous route I found out why. Below is what my sister Susan wrote in order to explain why the remaining Tucson relatives were not blood kin.

- Mildred (oldest of Rector children) and her husband Clinton Craig, to their sorrow were unable to have children. They adopted a baby, Christopher, who turned out to have severe asthma so they decided to move to Tucson for his health - best guess early to mid 1940s.

Mildred Craig and son Christopher at West Jefferson High School

Mildred Craig and son Christopher at West Jefferson High School

Awhile later (few years) second-oldest Rector, Alvie, also moved to Tucson with his wife Iona and their three daughters followed by Frank and Hilda and family in the early sixties(?) who moved to Phoenix.

- Mildred and Clinton adopted a second baby, Michael, and also over the years fostered many children one being a young girl, Virginia Supniesky (sp?) who though never legally adopted took the name Ginny Craig. Later she met and married Paul Smith.

- Mom's father was Marcus Rector who wed Elizabeth (Libby) Hodgson. (interesting note - in her last years Mom insisted Grandma's maiden name was Waite. I'm thinking maybe it was actually her middle name, a family name maybe on Grandma's mother's side).

- Till she married, Mom lived all her life with her parents in the West Jefferson, Ohio area, sometimes out in the country but mostly in town (tiny town but still "in town"). One time they had a cow, even in town!

- After a long search I finally found a photo with both mom and Mildred in it. No need to return

Source: Susan Breiding - 20 June 2020


The photo my sister Susan found of Mildred and her second husband Hollis and my mom.

Could you follow that? Are you confused?
To sum up, my mom's oldest sister Mildred moved from West Jefferson Ohio to Tucson in the 1940s and "adopted" a child named Ginny.
Ginny married Paul Smith and had 4 children, Peggy, Jeff, Amy and Paula. And it was these "relatives" Betsy and I were going to visit and stay with for some of our visit.

But wait! I have one more Tucson connection anecdote to share.

G. Sutton Breiding in Sabino Canyon: March 1968 - Click for larger image

Shown here is G. Sutton (Sutty) Breiding in Sabino Canyon, March of 1968. He was there with my mom, sister Susan, myself and brothers Wayne and Bill and Aunt Mildred who had taken us there for a picnic.
This was the first time any of us had been to Tucson or experienced the Sonoran Desert. We had fled Morgantown the previous day and stopped in Tucson to stay a few days with our Aunt Mildred - mom's sister and oldest of the Rector children. We were enroute to San Francisco where mom had no job and we had no place to live. This was the beginning of a 4 year odyssey which would change all our lives forever.

And now as they say: On With the Show!!

Friday: Day 1 - December the 20th  1996

Christmas Vacation in Southern Arizona:
We Be Here!

We left a cold and snowy Morgantown at 4pm and slowly but surely made our way to Columbus. The first hour or so of the drive was a bit dicey - snow covered roads and driving in and out of near white out snow squalls made for some rather tense driving. But the skies finally cleared and the roads dried up and we were able to make fairly decent time after all, 3 hours and 15 minutes from Betsy's school to the apartment of Tom Clossin on the west side of Columbus. Tom had offered us floor space in his cold, dusty and rather dilapidated apartment so we could catch an 8:45 plane at the near by airport. The flight finally got underway after a 30 minute delay. Bets and I spent most of the trip reading, making fun of people's hair doos and writing our Christmas cards.

We landed in Phoenix shortly after 11am, rounded up the luggage and rental car and were on the road by noon. After driving around for about half an hour looking for the I-10 on ramp I was informed by my trusty navigator that I was heading in the opposite direction we need to be going. Huh! Go figger...

Later than sooner we were finally heading south toward Tucson on Interstate 10 under brilliant blue skies, bright sun and balmy breezes.

One of the things that is amazing to me is the beauty of the desert scenery right along the interstate. A forest of towering, stately and often weirdly shaped Saguaros line both sides of I-10 just south (and north) of Phoenix. The "underbrush" of these cactus trees are species of cholla and prickly pear cactus and the common but beautiful ocotillo. There are also many fine specimens of the Palo Verde. The Palo Verde is a small twiggy tree with interesting green bark. Every time I see a Palo Verde I am struck by the remarkable resemblance this tree has to a rather rare cultivar of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) named "Butterfly" Both are beautiful trees.

Since we had arrived relatively early in the day we decided to take a side trip to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument rather than drive straight to Tucson. Casa Grande NM is about 50 miles south east of Phoenix at the town of Coolidge. By the time we arrived at the entrance gate to Casa Grande, we were just hungry enough to decide to drive into Coolidge first and look for a bite to eat. After passing the usual depressing selection of KFC, McDonalds and Subway we came upon a vision from the past - Sonic Burger drive-in. Neither Betsy or I had seen a Sonic since visiting the one, in of all places Oakley, Kansas fifteen years previous while stopping overnight there on our Honeymoon.

I quickly whipped the car into the lot and into the first available space. Now this was livin'! Just push a button, order up your meal and have it delivered right to you. All without leaving the comfort of your fine automobile.

Remembering the delicious, giant and cheap burritos we had ordered when at the Sonic in Oakley we opted for a nostalgic repeat and called in for a couple.

While waiting for the order we amused ourselves by listening to tunes on the radio and watching several English sparrows engage in the tiring, but rewarding task of carrying off the abandoned Tator Tots left by a recently departed customer. To see these sparrows struggle with those grease soaked hunks of processed spuds was quite amusing.
After the first one flew off, wavering under the load of the tasty, albeit large morsel, another one flew in and tried every way imaginable way to snag this unexpected treat and still achieve lift off. Finally it succeeded but dropped its hard earned prize in the middle of the parking lot.
Chaos ensued as bird after bird swooped down and tried to snag the Tot. One bird eventually managed to sink a beak into the now misshapen mess only to drop it after finally getting aloft. It was soon pounced on by another relentless sparrow who seemed to abandon the idea of even trying to fly off and went scampering across the parking lot as fast as its little bird feet would carry it and finally to the safety of a lattice fence which it quickly disappeared behind.
By this time Betsy and I where nearly howling at this natural drama.
Ahhh... how easily the simple are amused.

Click on the photos below for a larger image.

Two House Sparrows tussle at a feeder

Two House Sparrows tussle at a feeder. - EP Dave on Flickr

Like most species there are two things which the House Sparrow concentrates on - feeding and breeding. If either one of these is threatened - let the battle begin!

The house sparrow is strongly associated with human habitation, and can live in urban or rural settings. Though found in widely varied habitats and climates, it typically avoids extensive woodlands, grasslands, and deserts away from human development. It feeds mostly on the seeds of grains and weeds, but it is an opportunistic eater and commonly eats insects and many other foods. Its predators include domestic cats, hawks, owls, and many other predatory birds and mammals.

The house sparrow originated in the Middle East and spread, along with agriculture, to most of Eurasia and parts of North Africa. Since the mid-19th century, it has reached most of the world, chiefly due to deliberate introductions, but also through natural and shipborne dispersal. Its introduced range encompasses most of North America, Central America, southern South America, southern Africa, part of West Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and islands throughout the world. It has greatly extended its range in northern Eurasia since the 1850s, and continues to do so, as was shown by its colonization around 1990 of Iceland and Rishiri Island, Japan.The extent of its range makes it the most widely distributed wild bird on the planet.

Source: WikiPedia

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The Sonic in Coolidge where we first witnessed Avian Acrobatics for Tater Tots.

After finishing the food products that only barely resembled burritos we engaged in a photo op and then headed on down the road to our original goal - Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.
Note: All the photos for this trip were taken with an Olympus point and shoot film camera. Fortunately Betsy had put them all in a separate album and there they were - 24 years later ready to be scanned and webulized.
Additionally all the photo captions are mine including the ones used for Betsy's journal entries.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Just after passing through the curved, stucco gates of the monument roadway we saw in the distance what appeared to be a giant ramada in the desert. We were soon to find out this was the hi-tech protection of what remained of "Casa Grande" a four story structure built without forms of the local subsoil called caliche, (cuh-LEE-chee) a concrete like mixture of sand, clay and limestone.

According to interpretive material provided, the following information has been gleaned from the ruins and the few remaining native people who still lived in a similar fashion well into the 1930s.

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present day state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande or "Big House" one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America. Casa Grande Ruis, the nation's first archeological preserve, protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

The Hohokum people who built Casa Grande lived in walled compounds that contained numerous Caliche houses. But none were as grand as the big house which was over four stories tall. The significance of the size, design and placement of Casa Grande within the compound is still unknown today and may always remain so. One interesting feature of this structure is the placement of several windows which, when in the proper alignment allowed the viewing of certain celestial events such as Lunar Eclipses

Source: NPS

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The Big House.

Feeling the need to move on lest we arrive late in Tucson, we headed on back to the interstate and were soon at the home of my cousin Paula and Aunt Ginny. They live in the main and guest houses built of adobe brick they and other family members made and then used in the construction of this beautiful residence. The Tucson Mountains which lie just to the west of the city of Tucson and east of Saguaro National Park provide a perfect setting for this hacienda. That evening the distant lights of Tucson came slowly into prominence on the landscape but were soon overshadowed by the brilliance of the near full moon. It was now time to yak, drink and relax. And we did. We be here!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Cousin Paula's house made from handmade adobe mud brick in the traditional method. The casita where Aunt Ginny, Paula's mom, resides is on the other side of the main house and down slope just a bit. Private, but nearby.

Saturday: Day 2 - December the 21st   1996

Tour de Tucson

Our first morning here we awoke to one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. Most of the peaks of the Santa Catalina and Rincon ranges were blanketed in layers of pink, blue, gray and white clouds, all back lit by the rising sun. In the distance below lay all the lights of Tucson and in the adjacent hills we could hear the yipping of coyotes
There was a light, but balmy breeze that made me think of the blowing snow and biting winds we had left behind just the day before.

We finished up the pot of coffee, had some breakfast and were soon heading down the road in my Aunt Ginny's van for the "Tour de Tucson" she had promised us. Cousin Paula had joined her boy friend Dan for the trip to Phoenix to pick up Rosey, his daughter, and had stayed in town after they arrived back in Tucson.

Some of the sights we saw were Sun City south,dubbed Rancho Disgusto by Paula. This is a development that sprawls through miles of desert and is tightly packed with thousands of stucco and tile houses.
"Enjoy the good life - live lake side in this lovely golfing community in the desert".
Seems somewhat bizarre to drain rivers and pump wells dry just to irrigate lawns in the desert.

Sun City - Google Maps

"Spread across 1,000 acres of lush Sonoran desert landscape the community is made up of approximately 2,500 homes..."
Sun City is actually in Oro Valley just north of the Tucson City limits.

The tour continued with various other stops around the outskirts of Tucson, one of which was the visitors center at Sabino Canyon. This is undoubtedly the most popular and well known canyon recreation area in the Tucson area. The canyon is no longer open to auto traffic and shuttles are available to those who do not wish to hike or bike the area. We stopped at the visitors center and checked out some of the interpretive displays as well as the book store. Ginny bought me a copy of a recreational map for Tucson and Southeast Arizona which I have referred to many times. Can't have too many maps!

Rec. map of Tucson and southeast Arizona Map – January 1, 2006

This map was instrumental in helping me learn about the various mountain ranges and valleys surrounding the Tucson Basin.
It is no longer available and I am glad I purchased a second copy which I use as a "loaner".

We then continued on to downtown Tucson and drove through the campus of U of A and then on to the restaurant I had picked out for lunch.

The 4th Avenue Garden Cafe and Juice Bar located at 621 was selected on the basis of a review I had seen in "Starlight", an arts and entertainment supplement to the Arizona Daily Star. The reviewer - A M Ross writes a column entitled "Value Vittles" and seemed well acquainted with area restaurants. (As of June 2020 this location is now the "B Line" and "temporarily" closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Since the review was generally favorable we thought we would give it a try. We were seated at about 11:30 and only two other tables were occupied - just as we had hoped. After looking over the menu Ginny chose a Garden Burger, standard fare at most Veg restaurants, Bets chose the Eggplant sandwich and I chose the Garden Nori roll. My selection was made primarily because the rolls were made with brown rice rather than white (Apologies to Jerry C.). The 6 roll sections were both loose and a bit hard to handle, something I attributed to the fact they contained brown rice rather than the sticky and easily rolled white rice that is generally used. The rolls also contained blanched and shredded beets along with carrots, marinated tofu, and scallions. The dish was served with the traditional wasabi, sliced ginger and their own soy, garlic and ginger mix for dipping. A light lunch, and very tasty and not too hard on the wallet at $4.75.

From the Cafe we strolled a couple of blocks down the street to a gift and crafts shop that contained lots of interesting items all with an Arizona or at least southwest twist. After this shopping event it was off to the grocery store and then back to the ranch for a snooze, bike assembly and then off again at 4:30 to pick up Ginny's friend Chuck for the drive to South Tucson to their favorite Mexican restaurant called Nisha’s. The name is from a phonetic memory and most certainly not spelled correctly. Along this stretch of road called Taco Alley there are numerous Mexican restaurants to choose from.

Tucson taco tour master map

As you can see, South Tucson is still a popular spot for Mexican food. And with the elevation of the "street taco" to near god like status it is now trendy and hip to seek out specialty taco joints. You can explore the map and see the food gallery TucsonFoodie.com.

After dinner we made the short drive from the restaurant to Winterhaven, a subdivision that now has an annual Festival of Lights that seems to have become more popular than it deserves. After waddling around for 45 minutes or so gawking at the various versions of what people thought were seasons greetings and getting lost a couple of times we found the car and headed home under a nearly full moon. A bit of typing and it was off to bed.

Monday: Day 3 - December 23rd   1996

Bike Cadets

Another beautiful and balmy sunrise on our second morning here in the Tucson Mountains was made additionally memorable by seeing a coyote drinking out of one of the sunken bird baths Paula has added into the landscape. Wiley took a drink and then ambled around to the south side of the house. I hustled through the living room and into the kitchen and peeked out the box bay window. I was met with an unwavering and assessing gaze from Wiley who was perched motionless atop a low tree wall. A second or two passed and he was off the tree wall, then over the garden wall and gone. This was the first coyote I had seen that was not just a meandering shape seen in the far distance.
Those eyes...

Our plans for the day were to include a drive over the Tucson range to the area north of Saguaro NP West, park the car, and then bike to the newly built visitors center via a back country dirt road (Golden Gate Road) that promised little traffic and good scenery. We started down the dirt track that was to lead us to the Park and after only 5 minutes of riding came across a sign stating “NO OUTLET" Hmmm... Where did we go wrong? I made a quick about face and caught up with a runner we had passed and had exchanged greetings with. After looking at our map she informed us it was not to scale (although it claimed to be) and the road we wanted was on the "other" side of the pass. Shit!

Since I didn't particularly want to break down and reload the bikes we decided just to peddle up to the intersection of Picture Rock Road and Sendario and take Sendario south to Kinney Road which would take us into the park and then to the visitors center. Although it was only about 4 miles to Kinney road a stiff head wind made it seem much farther and turned the relatively flat road into what seemed like a protracted hill climb. No matter, this just slowed us down so we had even more time to enjoy the desert vistas on both sides of the road and admire the forest of towering Saguaros.

Photo by Betsy Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo by Betsy Breiding - Click for larger image

Fortunately Betsy agreed to snap these two photos other wise we would have none for this, our first bike ride in the Sonoran Desert.

We reached the visitors center and broke out the food and water bottles for a snack. It was at this point I realized I had neglected to transfer the food from Betsy's pack to mine. This meant we had only two granola bars and two bananas between us and we were already very hungry. Knowing my propensity to "fade fast" when I get hungry I grudgingly decided we would have to abort the rest of the ride we had planned in the park and merely back track to the car. First the screwed up directions now this! Oh, and I forgot to mention we made a wrong turn driving out and had to back track most of the way to our staring point. We were beginning to feel like a couple of "space cadets"!

So anyway, we did enjoy the visitors center and the 17 mile ride in spite of a number of false starts and screw ups. I think Betsy and I must be way out of practice traveling. Something we hope to remedy over the next couple of years.

That evening Ginny, Dan and Rosey joined us for another tasty dinner served up by Paula. We had fritatta, white and sweet potatoes and a mixed greens salad. Later on Paula's sister Peggy joined us for a lively round of (Christmas) cookie decorating. And who knows how many sugar cookies Ginny had baked were soon turned into works of art.
Especially the two I did.

Here ends Day 1 and 2, my only journal entries for the 10 day vacation. Fortunately Betsy kept a daily journal. From this point on it is Betsy who is talking to you and her journal entries are in italic, my comments are not.


Sunday: Day 3 - December the 22nd  1996

It's sunrise on our second full day in Tucson.  I'm sitting on Paula's deck watching the pink clouds above the Rincon mountains and the silhouettes of saguaro cacti.  The desert is alive with sound this morning.  I can hear coyotes yipping and howling in the distance and I've heard several different birds which I'd like to identify.  I heard a snort in the bushes and hoped a javelina was about to charge through but nothing ever materialized.  I thought I heard the buzz of a hummingbird's wings and sure enough it flew by me seconds afterwards.

After I came back inside I went to the window and there was a coyote drinking out of the bird bath! He wandered around the house and then looked right in the window at Mike and me.  We'll be leaving on our desert bike trip in about an hour.  I feel so much better than yesterday thank goodness.

The desert bike trip turned out to be not as long as we planned which was fine with me.  We did about 16 miles.  The map we were using was screwed up so we had to take a different route, then we couldn't do the loop we had planned because we didn't have enough food along.  Scenery was beautiful though - bright blue skies with plenty of prickly pears, saguaros, etc.  We saw a particularly beautiful crested saguaro - very ornate.

I forgot to mention I went with Ginny and Chuck on their morning walk.  They do 2 miles every morning and evening.  It was a nice walk around the area with a chance to look at all the neighbors' architecture.  Jackson (the dog) went with us, marking various spots along the way including someone's Sunday paper! I found out Chuck used to be a truck driver in Akron and one of his routes was driving for the Graber's from the muck farms in Hartville.  (I went to highschool with the Graber kids in Hartville, OH.)

In the evening we had dinner at the house with Peggy and Dan and Rosie and afterwards we decorated cookies.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Cousin Paula's lovely Christmas tree.

Monday: Day 4 - December the 23rd  1996

We got up bright and early for our Ventana Canyon hike and hit the trail around 9 a.m.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

A look down the canyon into the Tucson Basin.

It was a beautiful, rocky climb through the canyon up to Maiden's Pools where Mike and I shed our clothes and hopped into a pool for a photo op.  We didn't stay long - it was freezing!!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

I wasn't feeling too great and snoozed there on the rocks while Mike and Paula went on for a ways.  We had hoped to see a bighorn sheep but the closest we came was a rabbit.  It was another brilliant blue sky day with plenty of great desert scenery.  On the hike back I ran my knee into a prickly pear and had to pull out the needles with a pair of tweezers.  Ouch!

In the evening we had a birthday dinner for "Bungie", Paula's father.  Lots of good food, lots of relatives and one screaming brat.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Before dinner Paula, her father Paul and I posed for this photo.

Tuesday : Day 5 - December the 24th  1996

Here we are - the morning of our big trip to Organ Pipe National Monument.  I wish I didn't have this sore throat but at least I can function half normally.


Paula and Dan slept in the outside bed last night and Mike got a picture of them this morning.  I think they were a little chilly! .

We moved slowly getting things together and didn't leave till a little after noon.  We arrived at Organ Pipe around 3:00, just as the rangers were leaving.  The visitor center was already closed.  We chose a nice site and set up Paula's tent (which turned out to be a VE 24) under a Palo Verde tree, then we sat at the picnic table and had beer, wine and sausage and bread.  A gila woodpecker came up to beg for scraps.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The North Face VE24 tent shown here is the very same make and model I bought in 1980 and took on the very first camping date Betsy and I went on in Michigan. And when it came to our 7 week Honeymoon the VE24 was with us in all 17 states. Including California.

The Honeymoon VE24 at Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument on our Honeymoon

The VE24 was a very expensive, high end mountaineering tent. The only way I could afford to buy one was because my good friend and caving mentor Geary worked at a store which sold the VE24. As an employee Geary got a hefty discount which he passed on to us. Thanks Geary!!
We still have our beloved VE24. I refuse to give it up even though it is in pretty rough shape now. All those nights with me and missus rockin' 'n' rollin' have really taken their toll on that venerable old tent.

OK - back to Betsy's journal.

I forgot to mention we stopped in Why for wine. I had a choice between Riunite and Italian Swiss Colony. Lovely! I chose Riunite Cabernet, slightly sweet and watery with a classic Riunite taste.

We took a two and a half mile desert hike and came back to the campsite to cook our curried lentil soup.  The wind was rapidly rising and a bank of clouds appeared.  Mike gazed worriedly at the sky, wondering where the full moon was.  We sat in the gathering darkness, enjoying the desert breeze and making derogatory remarks about our neighbor's glaring lantern which we could see through the trees.  Mike got up, walked to the edge of our campsite and called me over.  I joined him and saw our neighbor's glaring lantern was actually a beautiful rising full moon. 

I went to the evening campground program on "The Mountain Lion: Silent Hunter of the Sonora".  Mike opted out because it was a multimedia presentation.  It was pretty interesting but I stayed to the end mostly because the ranger said we were going to sing Christmas carols.  It turned out he was just kidding! Silly me!

The wind was really blowing by the time I went to bed.  It beat and whipped against the tent.  After what seemed like hours we got up to "take a leak: and I thought it was 6 a.m - time to get up.  It turned out to be 11:30 p.m.  - still December 24th.

Wednesday: Day 6 - December the 25th  1996

We got up Christmas morning about 7 a.m.  to a cool, windy desert scene.  Unfortunately the stove didn't work and neither did our attempt to find coffee, so coffeeless we breakfasted on cookies and banana bread under a ramada at the visitor center.  We opened our gifts from Paula and Ginny, then headed out to drive the 50-plus miles of the Puerta Blanco Desert Loop.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the temperature went up as we drove.  At one point we got out to take a hike up a trail and we flushed a javelina.  We both had been hoping to see one.  We saw several and fairly close too.  Some birds we saw on our drive were phainopepla, cactus wren, curve billed thrasher, gila woodpecker, northern flicker, black-throated sparrow, gambel's quail, kestral, red-tailed hawk, western mockingbird, great horned owl and roadrunner.  At one point we walked right along the Mexican border separated from Mexico by only a wire fence.

By the time we got back it was 70s and gorgeously sunny.  Around 2 p.m.  we sat in the sun and had tortilla chips, bean dip and beer - it was great! We siested in the tent and then had our second dinner of curried lentil soup cooked over an open fire.  After dinner we walked along the road to the visitor center and then back through the desert.  We thought our way would be lighted by the full moon but it got darker and darker and darker.  We stumbled through dry washes, stopping now and then to watch the sky as more and more stars popped out, but no moon.  We covered the last few feet of the desert to the blacktop of the campground, turned around, and there was the moon peeking over a mountain, We stood and watched as it quickly came up and the whole moon could be seen.  We then went to bed early for another "long winter's nap".

Thursday: Day 7 - December the 26th  1996

At daybreak we literally climbed out of the tent, hopped into the car and drove to the Lukeville cafe for breakfast.  Coffee tasted great after our coffeeless Christmas day.  I had an egg over easy with toast but Mike had a bean burro.  We packed up camp, stopped at the visitor center, then headed out towards Nogales for our scenic drive.

The cactus studded desert gave way to a landscape that reminded me of an African veldt - long tan grass with mesquite trees.  The mountains were stupendous and we ooohed and ahhhed our way around each bend in the road.  At several places we got out and walked for awhile.  The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge was beautiful with large trees and I realized part of the beauty for me was the more familiar landscape than the cacti desert I had been seeing for the past several days.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Another stop was Arivaca Lake.  A camper was parked there and a man out in a kayak on the lake.  It looked an idyllic spot to spend several days with the quiet only interrupted by sightseers like ourselves.  We saw vermilion flycatchers hovering and hawking, a great blue heron wading, coots diving and calling gregariously to one another and some snipes probing the shoreline for a snack.  What a spot! The whole drive was fantastic - one beautiful view after another.  We decided to pass on going to Nogales and headed back up route 19 to Tucson.  We cleaned up (a bath was heavenly) made a frozen pizza, read, watched TV and went to bed.

Friday: Day 8 - December the 27th  1996

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

The four of us, Mike, Ginny, Paula and I, went out to dinner.

We stopped at Jeff and Barb's on the way - another very nice southwestern house. Jeff raises and races award-winning homing pigeons so we saw and heard about those.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Peggy (Paula's sister), Barb (Jeff's Wife), Paula, Ginny, Jeff (Paula's brother), Mike

We had dinner at Keaton's (closed in 2017) and the food was great at the time but the after-effects not-so-great. Mike's gas almost killed him (not to mention me) and I woke up in the night feeling slightly ill.

Saturday: Day 9 - December the 28th  1996

Another beautiful day of hiking in the Catalinas. Actually the day started out with rain. What a surprise it was to step out on the porch and hear rain falling on the desert and the smell was the same as the smell at home when rain hits the blacktop after a long dry spell. We decided to go ahead and try our hike and the day turned out to be sunny and glorious. We hiked Romero Canyon up to the Romero pools where we dabbled our toes and Mike attempted a nap.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Why we did not get any pictures of the pools I do not know.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

On our way home we stopped at Yokohama Rice Bowl to keep Mike from fainting, then went to Trader Joe's. What a neat store!

In the evening Paula and Ginny went off to a wedding and I went to see the movie Star Trek First Contact. When I got home Mike cooked sirloin steak over a mesquite fire. We ate our dinner over at Ginny's and watched some TV.

Saturday: Day 10 - December the 29th  1996

Paula made us waffles for breakfast - multigrain with yogurt, syrup and dried berries on top. She went to church and we got ready to head out to hike. We took the hike to Wasson Peak up the Sweetwater Trail - probably around ??? miles round trip. What a great hike! The trail, especially at the beginning, had been well taken care of with wild cactus plantings and stonework along the way. The going was fairly easy as we made our way up to the saddle. Then we started a series of switchbacks, fairly steep, to take us up to the peak. There we had a fantastic 360 degree view of Tucson and the surrounding landscape.

I had been up to Wasson Peak once before the previous year but this was Betsy's first time.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

On the last leg up to Wasson Peak some other hikers offered to take our picture.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Here we are on the summit. The mountains in the background are the Catalinas.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Little did we know back in 1996 that someday we would live just beyond the little mountain in the center which is Cat Mountain and reside in our HillBillyHillton each winter. If you would have told either of us that back then we would have thought you nuts!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Back then I actually wore hiking boots.

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

Fast forward to Feb 10, 2012 - Betsy the intrepid!

Photo by Mike Breiding - Click for larger image

2016: I have led a number of hikes up to Wasson Peak on Christmas day and this was one the better ones.

Hike Stats:
Length: 9.2 miles: Round Trip
Trail Head El: 2800'
Saddle El: 3840'
Peak El: 4687'
TOTAL Elevation Gain (AEG): 2100'
Hike Description

We got back to the car about 3:00. On our hike back Mike hiked on ahead and out of sight and I pretended I was an intrepid desert hiker out on my own for a long trek.

Little did Betsy know back in 1996 she would indeed become that "intrepid desert hiker out on my own for a long trek".

Back at Paula's - she brought home vegetarian pizza and then Ginny, Chuck, Paula, Mike and I went to see the movie "My Fellow Americans". Poor Mike had a gas attack and couldn't stay to see the whole thing!

Monday: Day 11 - December the 30th  1996

Our last day in Tucson. It took us quite a while to get packed up. We finally started out for Phoenix around 12:30 and almost ran out of gas on our way there. We finally arrived at Jeff and Colleen's and met the kids and her parents. Jeff and Colleen took us out to dinner at a local brewery. I had their apricot beer and Mike had pale ale. It was an enjoyable evening although once again we ate too much! We slept on the futon couch in their family room.

Monday: Day 12 - December the 31st  1996

Back to Morgantown. What a day! We arrived at the Phoenix airport in plenty of time but had to stand in the luggage line forever. Mike took the rental car back, then "lost" me somehow. We then hustled out to the gate like crazy only to find our flight had been delayed. When we finally got into the air we were a full hour late.The flight didn't seem to take as long as the flight out had.

We landed, got our luggage and got to the car with no major mishaps and only lost our way once before we were headed home. After a fast and furious drive, we arrived in Morgantown for a very enjoyable New Year's Eve party at John and Petra Wood's. The New Year arrived as we stood around the bonfire drinking a champagne toast.

~~~~~~~~~~ BONUS Photos ~~~~~~~~~~

June 23rd 2020 - Betsy on her 70th birthday with here case of Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale

Here she is: The Birthday Girl. A mere child of 70 years of age. The case of Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale shown her is Betsy's favorite. Knowing this I colluded with our Tucson Estates neighbor and friend Bob to get me a case at CostCo when he next was there. When Mr Corona chased us home I stealthily packed it into the trunk of the car when Betsy wasn't looking and away it went - back to West Virginia with us.

Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale

When we got home on March 26th I hid the case of Kiltlifter in the basement moving it every so often lest Betsy stumble upon it. When our Anniversary rolled around on May 15th I took a bottle from the case, wrapped it up and presented it to Betsy for her Anniversary present. "How did you get this!?" she exclaimed. I calmly lied and told her I spirited away one bottle just for this occasion.

Then June 23rd rolled around - The Big Day! And when she wasn't looking I put the case on her chair and threw a towel over it. Mission accomplished!

BTW - where Betsy is sitting in the above photo is what we refer to as "The Slab" here at #18. It is all that remains of a former owner's attempt to build a pic-nic pavilion. It is now our Happy Hour station. The other slab - the one in front of Betsy is a redwood cross section I bought decades ago in northern California. It is sitting on top of an old fire place grate which I salvaged from the trash. We use it for campfires. The grate rests on 4 old bricks which our neighbor Marion gave to us. Modern living at its finest.

Having a Great Time on The Slab

Having a Great Time on The Slab

For Betsy's birthday dinner we went to Oliverio's Ristorante which has a nice deck adjacent to the Rail-Trail and overlooks the Monongalia River.


As you can see Betsy had worked up a good appetite what with all the effort of turning 70!

After a leisurely dinner we got home, slipped into something more comfortable and ...


Oldy Moldies
November 1995
Report From Fort Wayne - Flatlandia

December 1996
Christmas Vacation in Southern Arizona

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