Client Feature – Gary & Joanne

by | Feb 14, 2006 | Weekly Column

For more than 10 years Joanne and Gary have relied on Rick to keep the cash flow available so they can travel extensively and maintain their lifestyle in the beautiful Black Hills. Here is Joanne’s description of their most recent travels.

We realize daily that "Life is Good," and we appreciate what we have: three daughters, four granddaughters, one grandson and two great-grandchildren. We also have a 50-year marriage we’ll celebrate March 17, 2006, at Disneyland, followed by a Mexican cruise with our 17 immediate family members. Since we lived in Southern California and visited Disneyland the year it opened, we are returning to help them celebrate!

Gary was a handsome Marine from South Dakota and I was just out of high school in California when we met in January and married nine weeks later in March! In 1972 we returned to South Dakota to live. We are both retired: Gary from Homestake Mine and Joanne from teaching.

Our travels are compromises: I get a few winter months in the southern United States, and Gary gets enough snow in South Dakota to plow with his Bobcat.

Our daughters and families have all been in the Army and now are either retired or active reservists. We spend a lot of time traveling to visit them: Hawai’i, Germany, Texas, Colorado, Georgia—and the list goes on.

We also volunteer at National Parks and/or National Forests. So far we’ve volunteered at Mojave National Preserve in California, Hawai’i Volcano Park and five times at the Coronado National Forest in Arizona.

Our most recent odyssey took place from December 2005 through February 2006. One highlight was a 14-day bus tour to Northern Mexico/Copper Canyon. The trip began and ended in Tucson. The daily schedule included craft demonstrations, plus home-hosted dinners and lunches. We also took a train trip from El Fuerte to Divisadero to be awed by Copper Canyon. The Spanish name is Barrancas del Cobre, and the canyon is larger (some places a mile deep and others a mile wide) and 1500 feet deeper than our Grand Canyon.

This was a Grand Circle trip, and because we toured in mid-December and didn’t have to fly to Tucson, the price was $1195 each. This was also our fourth trip with GCT (previous trips to Scandinavia, Peru and Egypt) so we had become “Inner Circle” members.

We soon realized what a boon this royal treatment was. We had welcome notes and gifts at most hotels, better rooms, travel gifts from GCT, and other special amenities. It almost became a joke with other, less-traveled guests. They’d find out we had a room 20 feet from the canyon edge while theirs overlooked a railroad track. It certainly made us want to book another trip to see what more the company will offer in the future.

Basically, we toured the coastal area of the Sea of Cortez. (We were on the opposite seaside during our Baja bus trip in 2000.) We visited Chihuahua, a very large, historic city where Anthony Quinn, a native, is honored with a bronze statue. Quinn returned many times and was a generous friend to his hometown. 

We visited old mining towns, including a Mormon settlement in the heart of peach and apple orchards. Former Michigan governor George Romney was born there in Nuevo Casas Grandes. The town has been there since the 1800’s, and most of the residents have dual citizenship and are bilingual.

We also toured the ruins of Paquime and experienced Mexican and Indian (Tarahumara and Maya) cultures through dances, craft demonstrations and home-hosted meals. We learned about pearl culture at the Monterrey Institute, experienced the Sonoran desert, and climbed a ladder to see a cliff dweller’s home at Copper Canyon.

Everywhere we went we had opportunities to buy crafts, but my mantra is, “I don’t buy if I have to dust it or can’t eat it or wear it.” Of course, we gave in a few times and bought a black pottery piece (by trading my Christmas wristwatch), a tiny doll and a pine needle basket. Gary succumbed at the ironwood demonstration (in someone’s back yard where we saw a demonstration from the raw wood to finished products) and bought a chili pepper crusher shaped like a cactus. And I did buy a t-shirt at a mission gift shop. (I’ve made a quilt with other tourist t-shirts from the past.)

We never thought we’d get tired of Mexican food but we did! In Chihuahua we found a Domino’s Pizza for a change. Gary also escorted me and a fellow quilter/traveler as we searched tela (fabric) shops for fabric. I bought two pieces for my “stash” which looked Mexican.

We needed a doctor for flu and cold symptoms about the fourth day and he came to the hotel, checked us both and wrote out what we needed. The doctor had very little English and I had my 35-year-old halting Spanish, but we managed to communicate fairly well.  In Mexico and most of Central America you don’t need a prescription. You just take the paper to the farmacia and buy the medicine.

We found clear vanilla at the last border town—a special request of our daughter Chris—and the store took VISA!! 

Our tour guide, Pedro Palma, a native of Mexico, took us to many places we’d never have seen alone. He seemed to know someone in every town we visited. Pedro jokingly told us about his travels when he was a “tourist” (translate illegal immigrant) before he became a tour guide. Our bus driver, Jack, was unfailingly polite and helpful.

You can go online to GCT.com or the sister company OAT.com (we went to Peru with OAT and Egypt and Scandinavia with GCT) to view the entire trip itinerary. If you don’t have Internet, the phone numbers are: GCT 800-221-2610; OAT 800-955-1925. There is also a sister company, VBT, which offers bicycle/barge tours. If you’d like to dream, get on their list, and you’ll get catalogs and brochures galore!

We haven’t decided our next destination yet, but Sicily, Italy and Ireland are all in close contention.

At trip’s end, we began our fifth time caretaking at Kentucky Camp, an old mining site in the Coronado National Forest south of Tucson. This really was idyllic. The temperatures ranged from the high 60’s to the mid 70’s, but it did get below freezing most nights. This area of Arizona is having a severe drought and future worries about forest fires, but we loved the weather.

Visitors to the old mining site need to drive five miles in on a dirt road then walk about ¼ mile down a hill to get to the visitor’s area and entrance to the Arizona Trail (think Mickelson Trail). We keep the area clean and neat, check and clean the vault toilets, greet visitors and answer questions.

We have cyclists, backpackers, hikers, and horseback riders from all over the world so it’s fun to read the guest book to see the various home towns. Various clubs and groups of five to 30 people show up weekdays as well as weekends. One weekend we had several Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops camping outside the visitor gate areas.

There is also a cabin named the Bed and NO Breakfast (sleeps 5) which the Forest Service rents for $75/night. It’s amazing how often this cabin is rented. It boasts electricity and heat inside, but the water is outside on a patio and the vault toilet is down a path about 100 feet away. I guess tenants like the solitude, quiet and awesome night sky as well as the opportunity to walk the trail and learn about the area.

We hunker down and only go to “town” (Sierra Vista) once a week or so. We pick up mail at Sonoita and check email at the little town library. We aren’t bound by a schedule but try to stay onsite when traffic is heaviest. There’s a terrific little winery just outside Nogales, Arizona where we stock up each time we’re in the area. We didn’t even walk into Mexico this time.

You can check out the volunteer opportunity by going online at passportintime.com and clicking on Arizona, then new projects where you’ll see the description of Kentucky Camp and the duties involved. I think August and December of 2006 are still open. We are slotted in again for November 2006. 

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