Adam writes on 2013-12-03:

We are currently enjoying the warm, sunny weather in Vail, Arizona.

We arrived here three days ago, having stayed one night in Fort Stockton, Texas and two nights in Los Cruces, New Mexico.

Fort Stockton was simply a stop for us, and being a sort of transit location, hoteliers are able to conveniently forget to mention that you are going to be charged for a room safe that you didn’t know was there, as well as both a city and a state tax.  This small financial penalty to us is a reminder to avoid making assumptions.

Where we spent our US Thanksgiving.

We spent a couple of nights in Las Cruces in budget accommodations called the Century 21 Motel.  We were unsure whether the motel was named after the Century 21 real estate office across the street or whether the Century 21 office thought it might be a good idea to set up camp directly across from the aptly named hotel.

Originally we were going to be hosted by a prospective host found on ADVRider’s “tent space” listing, which also included an invite for US Thanksgiving but this did not work out.  We both thought that traveling on a national holiday might be more trouble than it was worth, so we spent our free day exploring White Sands National Monument, with its white sands and various flora.

What a therapy camel looks like.

Being close to winter, the only fauna present was Matilda, the therapy camel.  We kid you not.  Rounding a curve of the hard packed white sand road, we came across a quirky man leading a camel across the white sand dunes.  Still in awe, we were given the OK to say “hi” to Matilda, pet her, and speak to the almost biblical looking character standing next to her.

While we did not catch the man’s name, he explained that he obtained Matilda when she was just a baby, and now Matilda accompanies him in his work with foster children.  Her presence allows the kids to open up more easily and build trust, especially in the case of those who had suffered abuse.

He also was accompanied by two dogs (that looked like Australian cattle dog mix breeds) who are also part of the practice.  It turns out that there is a hierarchy within animal therapy.  Matilda replaced some therapy llamas, who in turn, replaced a therapy horse.  There you have it: a horse is good, a llama better, and the camel is the best.  And it doesn’t hurt to keep a couple of dogs around for fine tuning.

A bit of fun in the snow.

This region is also home to missile testing grounds.  The area has a definite desolate feel, and coupled with the history of the region, made it feel down-right eerie.  Passing through the test grounds we looked for evidence but could not find any obvious signs of testing (burnt vegetation, mounds of disturbed ground, general mayhem and destruction…).  That said, they periodically close White Sands and the main highway during missile testing.

Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by Chef Mike Rowe-Wave (i.e. microwaved frozen lasagna) and priced-to-sell apple pie.  While not serious competitors for our dinner plates, it was interesting to note that McDonald’s was closed for Thanksgiving while KFC was open.  I guess fried chicken is closer to turkey with cranberry sauce, than say McNuggets?

John’s desert oasis.

After two nights we departed Las Cruces and arrived in Vail, Arizona.  We had arranged in advance to stay with our new friend John.  It goes without saying that you don’t know what to expect arriving at a new location sight unseen.  Having been to Tucson before during my 2010 motorcycle trip to South America, I had some idea of the area but had never been to Vail which is almost a suburb of Tucson.

She is a dwarf.

We were pleasantly surprised with what we found.  Having spent the last couple of days traveling through mostly flat desert with some mountain ranges, Vail is home to to saguaro cactus, and Saguaro National Park.  There are plenty of twisty roads that dip low where dry river “washes” (or arroyos) intersect, with beautiful mountains framing the background.

Warming up by the fire.

Turning off an asphalt road and down a small sandy gravel road, we found John’s home.  It is a super cozy adobe style building with nice tile floors, and a small backyard surrounded by a hand crafted whimsical metal fence made from rebar rods. Upon meeting John, we quickly found that he has a love for rusty found objects and he is very handy with metal work.  On the property you will find a few skeletons of old classic motorcycles, metal sculptures, various gardens and other features.


While John does have spaces to put a tent, we opted for his spare bedroom – we “hit the easy button”.  As I write, I am looking at a 1973 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport which sits against a wall next to John’s TV.  Upon first entry said motorbike caught our eye and we knew we were in a good place.  John also has some other bikes including a road bike and a dual sport motorcycle and has been into motorcycling for a long time.  Last summer John rode up through Canada including Tobermory and Guelph, Ontario – places very familiar to us.

Out with the sofa, in with the Guzzi.

It also turns out that John’s daughter did some volunteer work in northern Peru through an organization called Para el Mundo.  An old friend of mine from Toronto is a key organizer for this organization and it turns out that he handled her admission into the program.  Small world isn’t it?  And also curious as to how we ended up on the topic.

The last couple of days have been spent running errands in Tucson, including hanging out with Frank at ZMW Adventures, a good friend of John’s.  We initially stopped by his garage in hopes of picking up another spare chain link, and ended up pulling out maps and ultimately changing our route through Mexico.  We are now Baja bound.

With original plans of entering Mexico through the Douglas/Agua Prieta border, we have changed our minds.  One of the reasons we originally chose this route, was that I am already somewhat familiar with the area having traveled there before.  While we are not trying to repeat my previous adventure, sometimes basic familiarity can have its advantages including knowing the border crossing process.  Having previously travelled this region in the summer, Frank confirmed some suspicions that it would be colder in the high altitudes of Copper Canyon and there was a good chance that we might experience snow and black ice in some areas.  We have had more cold than we expected (and that we care to experience) so far and are ready for a little warmer weather, so the coastal regions and beaches of the Baja sound exactly like what we are looking for.

We are spending an extra day in Vail to relax, do some research, and take some photos.  John has various bikes and interesting old things on his property that are just begging to be photographed.  As well, while we are in the Sonoran desert, on the other side of his fence is literally an arid environment which hosts a myriad of flora and fauna.  While some of the fauna is dormant right now (including rattlesnakes and scorpions, as well as the desert tortoise which live in his garden), we regularly see Gambel’s quail and desert rabbits, and we are hoping to see javalina, a pig-like mammal who are known to tear into gardens and generally destroy everything.  John has even shown us photos of bobcats hanging out in his backyard, as well as various snakes and lizards that he has befriended.

Days have been comfortable and nights are cooling off.  This morning we found water dripping off of John’s roof, and in fear that it was a leaking solar heater, we found frozen dew which was melting.  It’s certainly a nice view from up there though – a couple of neighbouring houses, mountains, and desert landscape.

Why sleep indoors, when you can sleep outside amongst the wild cats and javelinas?

Our first couple of nights here John had evening plans so we spent the night grilling our dinner and drinking beer around a great campfire fed with eucalyptus and mesquite wood.  While the desert landscape is finally settling in for us, it was very surreal for us to be sitting around a nice warm fire with desert literally 6 feet away and a backdrop of howling coyotes.  In conversation with John, I had mentioned that all of this dry desert was so new and interesting to us. He basically reflected back to his time in Ontario, with something to the effect of “ya man, I get to Ontario and all of this green, green everywhere…”.

Having completed our errands, our planned final day included taking a good walk up the “wash” to see what we could see.  We didn’t see too much wildlife beyond various birds and a couple deer but the desert did not disappoint.  The exotic plant life and scrub kept us watching where we stepped and peering underneath bushes in hopes of seeing animals hiding out from the hot sun.