Back to the Copper State: Davis Mountains, TX to McDowell Mountain, AZ

Sunset at Picacho Peak

Leaving the Rio Grande, we headed north to a favorite from last year: Davis Mountains State Park. On the way we stopped in the town of Marfa at its top-ranked (according to Yelp) restaurant: Marfa Burrito. A Chipotle franchise, it is not. As one of the reviewers said, it’s like having your abuela cook for you. Barely recognizable from the street as a place of business, cash only, no English is spoken, seating is a random collection of garage sale furniture, the building does not seem to meet any known building codes, and you’re limited to a choice of beef, chicken or vegetarian burritos. For all those issues, it’s seemingly very popular, and the burritos were tasty and autentico.

Best Restaurant in Marfa

Davis Mountains SP sits at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, so it can get chilly at night, but the upside is a (usually) clear, dark night sky. That’s one reason that the world-renowned McDonald Observatory is located close by, at the top of a nearby mountain peak. When we stayed at Davis Mountains last year we signed up for a “star party”, where telescopes are set up for public viewing of heavenly objects. Unfortunately, the night we were there the skies became overcast, and it turned into a “cloud party” instead. So this year was a do-over, and this time the skies were clear. The telescopes (comparatively little ones of the 12”-18” variety, not the 433” research telescope) were trained on the Orion Nebula, Venus (to show that it has phases, just like the Moon), and a variety of star clusters. The celestial objects looked cool, but I was more impressed with the vividness of the Milky Way against the black sky.

Star Party: Red lights, but no red carpet

The State Park also has some fine birding opportunities, and I was able to add the beautiful Acorn Woodpecker, Black-crested Titmouse, Canyon Towhee, three varieties of Dark-eyed Juncos, and the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay to my list. Sadly, the Montezuma Quail eluded us, but I guess that gives us a reason for yet another return visit!

Good place for a telescope

After Davis Mountains we wanted to make tracks toward the warmer climes of Arizona. New Mexico, while lovely, seems susceptible to breakouts of cold air that gets dammed up against the Rockies. So after spending only two nights at Davis Mountains we successfully navigated the El Paso bypass (except for almost getting run off the road by a plain white box truck with US government plates – hmmmm…) and headed to Deming, NM, to dry camp for one night at the Escapees Dreamcatcher RV Park. While there are a few other state parks in the Deming area that we want to check out some day (City of Rocks and Rock Hound), for just an overnight stay dry camping was OK with us.

The luxury of dry camping at Dreamcatcher

At Davis Mountains we got a recommendation to dine at the Adobe Deli restaurant when in Deming, so we made a reservation. Located in a long-ago repurposed elementary school beyond the dusty outskirts of Deming, Adobe Deli appears to be neither Adobe nor a Deli, but rather sort of a post-urban ex-rural churrascuria steakhouse, minus the caipirinhas, and with the addition of taxidermy and junkyard decor.

Neither Adobe nor a Deli

The signature French onion soup, steaks and ribs were indeed good, but the service was rushed, the décor and presentation bizarre, and the bathrooms had iffy plumbing. But it was unique, and that seems to be what matters, especially in an out of the way place like Deming.

How do you eat this thing?

After one night at Dreamcatcher we returned to one of our favorite places, the SKP Saguaro Co-op in Benson, AZ, another Escapees affiliated property. We were lucky to get one of the few rental spaces available; for the remainder of our week there many other RVers had to stay in the boondock area. And our spot was primo, right across from the clubhouse, with a lovely casita and patio featuring a stunning view of the Dragoon Mountains, and handy access to laundry, Maureen’s exercise classes, and deliciously fast WiFi.

Primo location

Due to the cold nights and furnace usage in Big Bend and Davis Mountains, our propane was getting low, hence a further benefit of Saguaro was the onsite propane refill at a very attractive price. Like everything else here, the service is provided by volunteers. The landscaping is lovingly cared for, and even include an interesting existentialist art installation on the barbed wire. While we didn’t really member the names or faces of leaseholders from our stay last year, we still felt totally at home.

Where, indeed?

There are always lots of activities going on at SKP Saguaro, including jam sessions and decent professional entertainment.

Jam session

Dance to The Heartbeats

We took in two fantastic birding locations during our stay in Benson. First we returned to one of my favorite sites: the San Pedro House, which hosts weekly bird walks with experienced birders. The pros saw (or heard – they count) 55 species. With their help I was able to identify 48 in a 3-hour walk. New species for me were the Mexican Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Northern Harrier, Lark Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and the somewhat exotic Lazuli Bunting.

Stalking the exotic Lazuli Bunting

While here we picked up a tip to check out the Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw, east of Tombstone. We are familiar with the Sandhills from back home in the Indiana Dunes, where they migrate through on their way south in the fall. But this is their winter home, where they bulk up for the flight back north. And while we have seen maybe 8,000 at a time in Indiana, here there were easily 20,000, returning from morning feedings in literally clouds of honking birds. They didn’t exactly darken the sky, but it had a certain Hitchcockian feel to it.

Cranes (almost) darken the sky

One last highlight from Benson was a very good Mexican Restaurant that Maureen found out about (almost all the good stuff we do is because Maureen chats up the locals to get the inside scoop). Mi Casa Restaurant is set back from the highway behind a chain link fence. If you hadn’t been told about it, you probably would take one look at the outside and steer clear. But step inside, and you are transported to an intimate, even elegant little restaurante. The owners are the cook (she) and head waiter (he), and their care and pride show in the dishes they serve and the respect they show their customers. If you’re passing through Benson, it’s definitely worth getting off the highway to visit.

Mi Casa es su casa

Not Taco Bell

Heading north from Benson, we drove through Tucson on our way to Picacho Peak State Park, another repeat from last year. This time we hiked a few of the same trails, but otherwise it was a pretty low-key visit. I did manage to check off the Anna’s Hummingbird from the list – not exotic in these parts, but new for me.

Back in Picacho

After Picacho we stayed in McDowell Mountain Regional Park for two nights. It’s one of our favorites, but three nights was all we could score this year. There’s something about this place: it sits up high, far from the nearest city, with a nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, including the iconic Four Peaks. The sites are spaced far apart, nicely raked. There are many beautiful hiking trails nearby. It almost feels groomed. But we couldn’t linger. We had two busy days of errands to do here, including laundry, haircuts and grocery shopping in nearby Mesa, and then it was time to move on. Our next stop would be on the other side of Four Peaks, high in the Superstition Mountains.

We love McDowell Mountain SP