Roper Lake State Park, Safford, Az
Oct 27, 2008
|Our destination today is Safford, AZ, elevation 2900'!
Leaving our Water Canyon mountain location we continue west on US Highway 60, with a brief stop at the Very Large Array, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, to read the roadside exhibits and take a few pictures.
The Very Large Array (VLA) is a collection of 27 radio antennas, each measuring 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter and weighing about 230 tons. The Y-shaped array can be arranged into 4 different configurations depending on the distance between the antennas. The VLA is an interferometer, which means that the data from each antenna can be combined electronically so that the array effectively functions as one giant antenna. Dedicated in 1980, the VLA is used by astronomers from around the world to study everything from black holes to planetary nebulae. You can arrange for tours at the Visitors Center a few miles off the main highway.
Further west we connect with Highway 180 heading south, and stop at the "Catwalk", a beautiful narrow canyon carved by the Whitewater River in western NM. We haven't been here for at least 10 years! The trail is comprised of metal walkways bolted to the narrow canyon walls where there was no room to cut a trail. One expanse of the walkway is on girders stretched across the canyon. Between the creaking metal grates of the Catwalk you can see the swiftly running water below. In other parts the walkway hugs the canyon wall. The rock, worn smooth by years of erosion, arches over the pathway. The trail is only a couple of miles long but spectacular as hopefully the photos will attest!
By now its mid-afternoon and we only have about 60 or 70 miles to our destination at Roper Lake State Park. However, our route over Mule Creek Highway 78 is mountainous; very slow, sharp U curves and steep. Signs at the onset say no trucks or vehicles over 40 feet! Whew, a small motorhome has its advantages and a Pac (engine exhaust) brake is truly a Godsend coming down steep hills! Poor Howard's arms were sore from the constant turning but, hey, he chose the route!
Driving into Safford we were immediately struck by the acres and acres of cotton, just ripe for the harvest. A few days later we went back to watch the picking and baling process. We have now learned something new about one of our favorite locations; Safford is a major cotton-growing area!
We love Roper Lake which, although a state park, is almost resort-like! The sites are large with water and electric hookups, covered cabanas with picnic tables, and views of the lake and 10,000' Mount Graham. There are natural hot springs that flow into a stone hot tub, perfect for soaking after a long day!
It is also a bird and wildlife refuge with quail, roadrunners, rabbits and the occasional rattlesnake crossing paths. The lake is occupied primarily by coots and ducks with herons stalking from the sidelines. And the weather is mid-80s during the day, cooling off at night in the 40s; just about perfect!
After spending a wonderful month in New Mexico sort of going at full throttle, we now enjoy several days just hiking around the park, reading, relaxing and visiting with our friend, Walter, who is parked nearby. We saw him last in Port Townsend/Chimacum, WA. I started a major reading project: "World Without End" by Ken Follett, a mere 1000 page epic historical novel! This will take a while.
We finally venture out for some sightseeing, driving south past Willcox to Chiricahua Nat'l Monument where we hike amongst spectacular rock formations (seems we are attracted to rocks). Then back along the backroads to the small village of Bonita which is home to Eurofresh Farms with hundreds of acres of computer controlled greenhouses growing tomatoes and cucumbers for shipment around the world. Eurofresh is the largest employer in Graham County.
We spent several hours one afternoon at Eastern Arizona College's Discovery Park Campus and enjoyed Dean Swanson's animated discussions on astronomy, anthropology, ecology and geology. We had a personal tour of the Gov. Aker Observatory and the interactive exhibits that demonstrate humankind's knowledge of time and space. We saw the world's largest camera obscuras, listened to sounds of space collected by radio telescopes (VLA!) and viewed the Observatory's 20-inch reflector telescope.
And the scenic byways and backroads are many around the Safford area: the Gila River Box, the Black Hills Back Country and our newest find, the Klondyke/Aravaipa that makes a loop around Mt. Graham to the old, practically deserted town of Klondyke, with only a ranger station and a few cattle ranches now in residence. The general store, school, post office and full hookup RV park all long closed!
We ended up staying here for 10 days, truly enjoying our slow decompression from a month of extreme sightseeing! Now on to Benson for a month-long stay!