Saturday, November 22, 2014

Willcox and the last of the singing cowboys

November 16-19, 2014:

It was a cold windy morning with dark ominous clouds and light rain showers as we left Silver City, I felt like staying another day as I knew it wouldn't be good driving conditions.  It was 123 miles to Willcox Arizona and as expected it was not a smooth ride with light rain and wicked wind.  After getting into Arizona it improved and the sun was out by the time we arrived at the Fort Willcox RV Park.  This is a small RV Park a couple of miles outside of Willcox and we are here mainly because they are giving us the Passport America rate for 4 days.  Another attraction is free homemade waffles and coffee in the morning. 

Not a fun drive

The Fort Willcox RV Park

It was down to the low 20's in the mournings every day, colder than I expected.  I let the furnace run all night with the thermostat set at 60 degrees and also cracked open the kitchen faucet to let a trickle of water flow. That worked, nothing froze up, but that's pushing the limits.  The cold weather capability of this RV is terrible as it has exposed water tanks and piping underneath with no insulation, only small heat pads on the Tanks that probably do little.  I have added insulation and a length of heat tape to some of the pipes but it is piecemeal, to do it right required removing the black and gray water tanks to access the fresh water Tank and piping.  

Willcox was big cattle ranching country in the open range days starting in the mid 1800's.  In the 1870's the transcontinental railroad, the Southern Pacific arrived and Willcox became a major cattle shipping hub.  In the 1930's Willcox became known as the "cattle capital of the nation".  The freight trains still run through Willcox, probably more so than ever, but they don't stop any more.  It is now mostly a rest stop on Interstate 10.  Willcox has a nice small downtown area that is full of history.  In it's prime days it was a rough tough town, just like in the old cowboy westerns with the cowboys raising hell in town, the raiding Apache Indians and several train and stage robberies and shootouts.  Warren Earp, (Wyatt Earp's brother) was shot and killed in the Headquarters Saloon.  There are a two wonderful museums to see, the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum and the Chiricahua Regional Museum and Research Canter.

Welcome to Willcox sign

Willcox Railroad Park

The downtown historic district

Cocktails and U-cook steaks here

Rex Allen statue and grave site.  His ashes are
scattered around the park. 

Historic theater

I visited both museums and found them totally different but filled with amazing stuff.  If you love old cowboy movies, the Rex Allen Museum is a must see.  Rex Allen was born on a ranch in Willcox and went on to Hollywood fame as a singing cowboy starring in numerous western films.  He was billed as the last of the singing cowboys. He also narrated many Disney films and was the voice behind 150 Disney cartoon characters.  Rex Allen days is held every year in Willcox and is the their largest event.  Also housed in the museum is the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame that pays tribute to "real working cowboys" of the area. 

The Rex Allen museum

Movie posters

Rex's first sears guitar

Rex had a job in Trenton, NJ on WTTM !

Rex's saddle and suits

These guys were really good

Mural on side of the museum
The Chiricahua Regional Museum is filled with Apache Indian information and rare artifacts including a "Wickup" built by Geronimo family members inside the museum.  It also has lots of amazing Willcox history.  They also have a research library and historical archive across the street in another historical building.  Also a wonderful booklet that I purchased on the history of Willcox that could be used as a script for western movies.

Chiricahua Museum

Research library across the street

Indian Wickup in museum

Geronimo in the wild west show

The caption was great

When in Willcox, you must go to the "Big Tex Bar-B-Que", housed in an old Santa Fe dining rail car.  The food is cooked in a mesquite wood fired cooker.  We went there for dinner and it was one of the best BBQ meals I've had anywhere.  I am adding it to my best of fine dinning list for sure !

Big Tex Bar-B-que

We returned to the Chiricahua National Monument which we had previously been to in early 2013.  We also repeated the Echo Canyon Loop Trail there again, which we had done before and happy to say it was as great the second time around.  We had mostly forgotten about this trail until we were doing it, that's an advantage of aging, you can do the same things over and over and they still seem new !  Anyhow, the trail was fantastic and it was a really nice day.

Balanced Rock 

Rock spires at Chiricahua

The entire trail looks about like this

Another great trail view

When rail passenger and freight service ended in Willcox the station building was abandoned for years and eventually became derelict .  The Southern Pacific planned to demolish the building, but the city of Willcox stepped in and saved it, restored it and using it for city office space.  They have a small historical exhibit inside that is nicely done.

Willcox rail station, now City Hall

Back in the golden days of steam

Another place that sadly could use some help is the old cemetery as most of the graves are unmarked and headstones are broken or fallen over. The only grave that seems to be taken care of is Warren Earp.  Name recognition always helps ?  It appears that wooden markers were installed on some of the graves years ago, but they are now mostly not legible or fallen over. 

Warren Earp's grave

Nice  gravestone on the ground

Several wooden markers

On the way to the cemetery, I spotted a large cat ? (which I thought was a Bobcat or a Mountain Lion) that was stalking small birds. I took a photo from quite a distance which doesn't do it justice.  When Twinkles saw the photo she dismissed it as a common house cat.  I kept telling her; you had to be there, it was really big ?  I wouldn't mess with that house cat !

What is it ?

Also took a ride to the old town of Cochice which has a couple of interesting old buildings, nothing else of much interest now, but in the pioneer days it was a destination.  Along the way I took a nice dirt road past several Pistachios nut tree farms and saw a big hawk.  The Nut Tree business seems to thriving here, I saw several desert areas being cultivated to expand tree orchards.

An old store in Cochice with a man leading a mule

Lots of hay farming in the Cochice area

Hawk on pole along the Cochice Stronghold Road

Recently cleared land planted in nut trees

Near Cochise is the "Apache Station Wildlife viewing area" which is a winter range for thousands of Sand Hill Cranes that migrate from the northern US and Canada.  I could see them flying and hear them from far away, but they were not close enough for a good view.

Sand Hill Cranes in flight

The Cattlerest Bar is located about a quarter mile down the road from the Fort Willcox RV Park.  I wasn't sure it was open as usually there were no cars in front.  On Wednesday, the open sign was lit and there was a car out front, so stopped in.  It was big inside with two rooms, one room with a small bar, tables to sit at, pool tables and a shuffleboard. The other room has a large bar, a large stage for bands to play on with a large dance floor in front of it surrounded by a corral type fence and many tables and stools for seating.  It's a pretty near ultimate good old boy western cowboy honky tonk.  They have bands on some weekends which I was told draw a good crowd.  Wednesday night it turns out is Karaoke night which draws a small dedicated crowd who were also celebrating a birthday. The Karaoke was mostly dreadful with the highlight of the night being when the group did a round of shots with one of the women doing a shot called a "Bl xxxxx b".  I had never seen that done at a bar before, I usually don't hang out in those kind of places.   All agreed that she performed it perfectly, very impressive.

The Cattlerest Bar

Next stop is the Apache Gold Casino in San Carlos, Arizona,
Twinkles and Slick

No comments:

Post a Comment