Driving Through the Desert on a Bridge With No Name… Guaymas to Camp Verde, AZ

I was in driving mode today, so you get another novel… but no illustrations. I am the worst blogger on the planet. 🙂

It was a pretty good night in Guaymas. I woke up around 3:30, but managed to doze until 5:30ish. I went to the office to check out and get my key and remote control deposit back as well as receive my coupon for a complimentary breakfast. That was running late, so I went next door to Oxxo to get a coffee. By the time I came back, the breakfast room was open. For egg eaters, the breakfast was decent enough — one fried egg with toast and coffee. I asked for just toast and coffee and got three slices since I wasn’t haven an egg. It wasn’t much, but I wasn’t particularly hungry and was happy to not be leaving on an empty stomach. The coffee was okay, but not worth lingering over, so I left about a half cup.

It was 6:40ish when I finally took off. I didn’t need to get fuel just yet, so I was able to get some miles under me. I stopped at the southern end of Hermosillo to put in $400 of fuel. That would get me to the border with about a quarter tank of fuel to spare.

The roads were good, but there were a lot of “desviaciónes,” where you drive in the opposite lanes and only have one going in each direction. So it was pretty slow, albeit steady going. I know I passed my favourite “Puente sin nombre” (bridge with no name) at some point, but didn’t see the sign since I was on the wrong side of the highway. I had a stop or two by the federales where I pretty much just rolled through. I might have had a fruit stop, too, but I can’t remember. If I did, it wasn’t memorable!

I didn’t let the first part of the day lull me into complacency, knowing I had three major roadblocks ahead of me: the big military checkpoint before Santa Ana, the US border, and then the secondary inland customs checkpoint. So I had no motivation to dawdle since I really wanted to get at least as far as Phoenix tonight.

Before I knew it, I was in line for the big military checkpoint, where I was sent to secondary inspection. The officer thoroughly went through everything he could reach without taking too much out of the truck, asking we what such and such was. I didn’t have the words for “external hard drive” so I went with “thing for my computer that has pictures on it.” And I completely blanked on the word for printer and went with, “the thing that puts my computer things on paper.” That one got a laugh. The soldier was just a kid and very nice. I was there about ten minutes total.

Coming into Santa Ana, I remembered, yet again, that I forgot to pick up some powdered milk to take with me to Canada! A bag in Mexico is about 3CAD while the exactly same product is 12CAD at home! I figured Santa Ana would have a  grocery store and, sure enough, I saw a “Super Norte” as I came into town that had to be a grocery store. I missed the turnoff for it, so I circled around the block and parked on the street since the store lot was cramped. The milk was more expensive than at Ley, but only by about $6, still a substantial savings.

It was about 10:30 by this point and I was feeling peckish. I’d just happened to park behind a taco joint, so I went in and ordered just one taco as a snack. I don’t know if “tacos de burro” needs to be taken literally or not, but I’m fairly certain that I wasn’t eating beef… Whatever it was, it was yummy!

I then realised that I was out of money on my phone so I stopped in at an Oxxo to top up. You might find that odd, thinking why do that when I was right on top of the border, but I have the new “sin fronteras” plan, where I can use my phone in the US and Canada at the same rates as in Mexico. I figured that I’d test with just $100 on the phone and if it worked, then I could buy a banda ancha plan to use while in the US, saving me from having to buy a SIM card and deal with AT&T.

Next, came a fourth roadblock I hadn’t anticipated based on my experience last year: the vehicle permit return. Since I was getting cash back, I had to get a photocopy of my passport and driver’s license (on the same sheet of paper) and go to Banjercito. So I was there about a half hour. The process went smoothly and I got two crisp US $100 bills back. It was nice to get that little influx of cash that I won’t have to convert to CAD.

And then, it was time to ignore the GPS and head towards the Mariposa Road crossing rather than Noagales Centro. I had just one final toll booth for the day, the third. I haven’t done the books yet for today, but tolls were around $145, or 11.CAD. Once that last toll was paid, I was left with about $60! Wow, talk about good budgeting on my part! My last withdrawal amount was exactly right, and that’s taking into account all the unexpected splurges my last days on Isla.

The line up for the border started way back this year and moved very slowly. There were only four of twelve lanes open, and no bus or RV lanes! Those of you who follow me on Facebook were treated to my live Facebooking my wait. I waited exactly 40 minutes to finally get to a customs inspector. He asked me a couple of questions, poked through the back of the truck… and sent me on my way! That was not expected!

Once clear, it was just past 1PM. I was happy to get clear of Nogales and push north. The inland customs checkpoint was open, but the line move smoothly. I was asked if I’m an American citizen and replied Canadian, which got me wave through.

I stopped just past Tucson for a very late lunch. Channeling Tony Stark, all I wanted after my grueling time in the desert was an American cheeseburger, so I decided to try In-N-Out Burger for the first time, having heard so many good things about them. All I can say is meh. Oh, well, at least it hit the spot. I also bought fuel at just 1.899 a gallon! Wow, that’s great price even with a the exchange rate! And I got my stupid phone working on the T-Mobile network after multiple reboots. I just checked my balance and it has barely gone down despite my doing some surfing on the phone, so I know that I can definitely get a banda ancha plan to use in the US. Wow!

I then stopped at the Walmart in Tempe, hoping to find a pair of Earth Spirit sandals I like since I went clear through my pair from the spring over the winter, as expected. As luck would have it, they had both of my favourite styles of the sandals in my size! I grabbed both as well as a couple of tee-shirts.

Then, I tried a couple of motels along my route and the Motel 6 was the best deal for a ridiculous $61 if I wanted internet. I decided to push on a bit. I knew this would be my most expensive hotel night and I didn’t mind splurging, but if I was going to spend 80CAD or more, I wanted some value to my expenditure.

Well, I ended up climbing and climbing and climbing to over 4,000 feet and then descending a bit to land in Camp Verde for the night at an off chain motel (my GPS thought it was a Super 8). The attendant gave me the AAA rate so I paid close to what the Motel 6 would have charged, only I got a pool, a much nicer room, and a semblance of breakfast in the morning. Even though it was past seven by this point, I hit the pool for a few laps then soaked my kinks in the hot tub!

I was peckish by this point, so I went to the Denny’s nearly next door and it was hopping. I knew I would not get out of there quickly unless I did soup, so that’s what I ordered. I’m pretty sure they just open up a tin of store brand cheddar soup and mixed in some frozen broccoli… It really wasn’t great, but it was nourishing and cheap and I got out of there before people who had been ahead of me even got a chance to order their food!

It was a very long haul today, but I only have 600KM to do tomorrow and the hostel in Moab isn’t expecting me till about seven. I plan to leave pretty late (nine) and I have one major stop en route.

Driving Through Saguaro National Park and Visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

For this afternoon, I wanted an activity that would get me out of the truck (so not too far from Coolidge in the direction of Tucson), but which would still be outdoorsy. I found the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which sounded like the perfect way to wile away an afternoon. To get there, my GPS routed me through Saguaro National Park, a route I would have avoided had I not had my parks pass as it costs $10 to enter this park for a week. I pulled over a few times to enjoy the view of all those hills covered in one saguaro cactus after another. It looked positively like an alien landscape!

Later, at the museum, I asked someone there all my questions about the saguaros. First of all, the g has the Spanish pronunciation, so it is more like sa-wah-ro  than sa-gwa-ro. Next, the root system really interested me. The saguaros have a lot of roots, most of which are just below the surface and the radius of the roots equals the height of the cactus. So if you have a 10′ cactus, the roots extend 10′ all around it. The older the root, the more woody it is. The saguaros are firmly rooted, but sway in the wind. They get their first spear (arm) when they are about 75 to 100 years old and they live a long time!

The desert museum admission is just shy of $20 and you need at least two hours to see everything. I stayed 2.5 hours and that was just enough to view everything except hike the desert loop to the coyotes because it was just too dang out.  Anyway, I see coyotes all the time back home, so I decided to see the (indoor) snake exhibit a second time instead. 🙂

This museum is really a zoo and botanical garden. You get to see all the animals of the Sonoran desert as well as the plants, insects, and geology. It is beautifully laid out.

I arrived around 1:40 and was told to hoof it down to the rear of the site to catch the raptor show at 2:00. This was an incredible experience! Several types of trained raptors, including peregrine falcons, Harris’ hawks, and barn owls fly over and near the crowd. One hawk swooped so close to me that I had to duck! The show lasted a half hour and we learned about how these birds thrive in a desert environment.

After that, I just wandered the site with my map, looking at what was interesting, from the aviary to the big cat canyon, the mineral dump where I was able to find a treasure to take home to the hummingbird garden, the bee and butterfly habitats to the cactus garden, and more. There was lots and lots to see and plenty of cool buildings to duck into when I had enough of the unrelenting sun. There was also a conveniently located café selling ice cream at a reasonable price. 🙂

The museum takes good care of its guests by not only providing a lot of sources of good drinking water for refilling bottles, but also sunscreen in every bathroom!

My camera ran out after the black bear. I got some more pics with my iPhone, but I forgot to bring the transfer cable into the bunk with me. All you’re missing is pictures of prairie dogs, several rattlesnakes, and every more saguaro-covered hills. In other words, not much. 🙂

I learned so much today about this desert that extends as far north as B.C.’s Okanagan region. The saguaro-savvy staff member and I talked about about that and she explained that prickly pear-type cacti do well in colder climates, hence why we have them in Canada. She was surprised that we have them as far east as southern SK, though.

From the museum, I took a twisty road to Tucson, stopping along the way to soak in the view. It’s been another full rich day!