After setting up camp – I hesitate to call it camp since these RV parks are not my idea of camping – there is absolutely no wilderness around our little gated community – I said goodbye to Miko, told her not to howl and took off for the Coronado National Memorial. This will mean that in two days, I will have visited a National Historic Site, a National Monument and a National Memorial. Who knew that there were so many different designations for tourist sites.
On the way down to the Memorial, I saw one of the Border Patrol's blimps that they put up in the sky to watch for illegal activity. Seems like we are being watched more and more.
|Looks like one of those gold fish snacks, doesn't it?|
Coronado National Monument commemorates Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition and the cultural influences of Spanish colonial exploration in the 1500s. Of course Coronado did not actually come through this particular spot (close but not this exact spot), but it was scenic so I guess 'they' thought it would be a good place for a memorial.
When you get to the visitor's center, you watch a short movie talking about Coronado and why 'they' think he is important. I told the volunteer lady that I wanted to go up to Montezuma's Peak because I had heard that it had panoramic views and it was worthwhile. She asked me what kind of vehicle I was driving because you cannot go up the road if you are driving anything longer than 24 feet or if you are driving a sports car. I should have paid attention to what she was saying because those two requirements mean we are going to be talking serious mountain driving. Vehicles longer than 24 feet cannot handle switchbacks well and the sports cars generally have very low clearance and will bottom out on the road. I know my car has a low clearance so I wasn't sure if I should go. The volunteer lady said – well, go – if you bottom out at the first dip, just turn around. Ok, sounds good to me.
The first mile of the road is narrow but paved. As I'm driving along, there are several Border Patrol vehicles patrolling the park road. I thought to myself, perhaps I should have paid more attention to how close I was to the border and ask Ms. Volunteer Lady if this was a safe thing to do.
After the first mile, the road gets even narrower and it is no longer paved. It is gravel, rutted and twisty and turny. The part that got me though was that on one side of the road it was straight down, no gentle slope, just sheer cliffs and no guardrails. I am really scared of heights, I would glance over toward the cliff and my stomach would just roil. The speed limit was 15 mph, I think I was doing about 2mph. It is quite a climb, about 1300 feet in altitude difference between the visitor center and the Peak. I kept thinking to myself that even though I am scared out of my mind, I will be proud of myself when I got to the top. When I finally did get to the top, I was not so much proud of myself for doing it, but totally relived.
|Notice that little road way down there|
Except – at the top there was a big parking lot. I was the only one there except for Border Patrol. There were four officers plus two tall towers that had some sort of radar screen that was scanning the valleys. One on the U.S. Side and one looking over the Mexican side. I decided that maybe I should ask about safety at this point so I asked one of the Border Patrol guys. He said I was perfectly safe up there, the only dangerous thing was the road that I had just come up on. Thanks guys, I still have to go down that road to get back to civilization.
|The Border Patrol and their towers - one overlooking Mexico and one overlooking the U.S.|
Once you get to the parking lot, you have to climb about 375 to actually get to Montezuma's Peak. That doesn't sound like much but it sure is when it is all uphill. They had little information signs staggered along the way so you could stop and pretend you are reading while you try to catch your breath. The views were stupendous and I did feel very proud of myself for 'conquering' the mountain. I had to push myself to get to the peak but I did it. Yay Me!!!
|Montezuma's Peak - so close but yet, so far|
|The United States side of the mountain|
When I got back to the parking lot, the Border Patrol guys were all gone. I was alone on top of the mountain – if I hadn't been so scared when I was at the Peak, I would have twirled around just like Julie Andrews on her mountaintop in Sound of Music.
Now I had to go down the road. On the way up, I never met another car. On the way down, I met three cars coming up. The problem with this is the person going down is on the right side of the road – the cliff side. I just got over as far as I was comfortable which wasn't all that far and then those other people had to squeeze by me while I was stopped with my eyes closed.
Finally got down into the valley and headed back to the RV. I stopped at a grocery store called Food City. It was a very Hispanic store, lots of your standard foods all had their labels in Spanish. They also had some Mexican specialties like Mexican cookies and some fruits and vegetables that I wasn't too sure about.
I spent the rest of the night, trying to figure out if I should try to get to Tucson the next day. There were high wind warning for Thursday and they were warning high profile vehicles (RVs) to stay off of the road. I will have to wait until tomorrow morning to see what the winds are like.