Friends in the desert

Trip Start Apr 15, 2013
Trip End May 29, 2013

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Where I stayed
Joan and Han's Guest House

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sue Start
 As we drove through the desert my excitement mounted. Not long and we would visit our dear friends Joan and Hans who have lived in various places in country America for over 40 years.  Joan and I trained at the Children's Hospital in Melbourne and have been lifelong friends.  A group of us holidayed on Magnetic Island and it was on that trip she met Hans and subsequently were married.  Since leaving Australia they have returned many times , but this would be the first time we can return the gesture. A lovely warm reunion was followed by three days of Arizona hospitality.  
 Firstly Joan's wonderful Mexican/American food, was filled with the fresh fruit and vegetables I was now craving. Thank you so much. It was needed. I think all you travellers out there will relate to that desire for home cooking after being on the road a while. Secondly we loved staying right in the desert in the house Hans built, being part of their world. Watching the birds of numerous varieties finches, hummingbirds, quails etc. from their back porch.  This became a morning and nightly ritual.  A backdrop of the setting sun over the mountains was very special to us, together with lots of talk and reminiscing and the odd Margherita.
Then Joan acted as a competent willing tour guide and drove us to various historic towns including Tombstone.  This area is serious Cowboy territory but in recent history it is a military town so close to the Mexican boarder you can experience the good and bad of this influence. People respect and support the soldiers.   However there are  palpable social issues with the Mexicans due to illegal immigration, drug cartels and violence that ignite a degree of community fear.  Few people now feel safe to cross the border into Mexico any more and visit.
 We experienced first hand the spirit of community that exists amongst American folk, so warm, generous and truly supportive of each other.
 Thank you Joan and Hans for allowing us to tread for a while in your shoes.
Larry Start
At the start of the day we were seeing the traditional western cactus as we had for part of yesterday.  These are the tall, metres high kind, with the one or two branches held up like a human arm bent at the elbow, the forearm pointing up. One arm takes thirty years to develop. We knew this would not last, as at 4000 feet, Sierra Vista was too high for these to survive naturally.
We dropped off the car at Sierra Vista and were soon picked up by Joan in her distinctive car with the Aussie flag for a front number plate and a follow me to Tumburumba (a place in NSW) on the back window.
Sierra Vista is in the desert and all water comes from underground wells that are replenished in the brief monsoon season.  This desert has some sparsely distributed metre or two tall bushes, grass, mostly dry, and the odd other bush.  This is how the garden in Hans and Joan's is based, with some additions to add colours, such as cactus or Mexican bird of paradise. The other feature is their bird attracting station that add a multitude of birds - I am in heaven.  Their block is a reasonably large 4 acres, with a self built, earthy beige, stucco house that blends well with the desert garden.
Our first excursion is to look for birds around the nearby canyons. We did see a wonderful blue hummingbird (didn't stop for photos) and a flock of wild turkeys, some up close and displaying. This display excited an American in the area who had never seen that despite several attempts to do so.
After that we toured the historic town of Bisbee with some great street view and building and to Larry's horror - shopping!!  That evening Joan cooks up a great meal of baby ribs, white corn and sweet potato.
The next morning is Larry time with a bike ride on a bike kindly lent by a friend of Joan's while the girls shop. On the way to pick up the bike we see a woman shooing a snake gently off the road. As she drives pasts she tells us it is a good snake - a gopher snake.  Around here the deadly rattlesnake is prevalent. The good snakes, gopher and king snakes are encouraged, as they will keep the rattlers away. Despite this being a "good snake" it created quite deal of anxiety among the females of our party!
The afternoon sees us off to Tombstone, wild west town with some original buildings intact. This is the town where law men Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holiday had their famous gunfight at (really near) the OK corral. In that fight three were killed in thirty seconds, but only the baddies.  The town plays on that greatly, with recreations, etc., etc., but there is some good stuff to have.  The local town hall, now a museum has some fascinating researched material about the fight, that happened, the outcome and how the goodies were not prosecuted. There we also find a tale about how there was a crime committed and there were three accomplices, two directly and one indirectly.  The first two were hanged, but the other one was given life.  The town was not satisfied and snatched the remaining live villain, blindfolded him and hung him.  An event captured pictorially by famous local photographer Fly. The coronor's finding - he died of emphysima of the lungs, which might of been caused by strangulation, self inflicted or otherwise.
 Lastly, the desert is not barren. Apart from the bushes I mentioned earlier a great presence in the desert is the ocotillo plant. This plant grows up to 15 feet tall having several individual stems, each having beautiful red flowers along them. This happened to be flowering when we visited, making parts of the desert where it bloomed in abundance a rare and beautiful sight. My bike ride also revealed a multitude of beautiful roadside wildflowers.
 Thanks a lot to Joan for being our guide to the Sierra Vista area and local food and to Hans for encouraging the birds that gave me such joy.
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