Monday, December 29, 2014

Where the heck is Casa Grande?

Why we chose Casa Grande as a destination this trip is a little convoluted. We joined Escapees and they own several Coop Campgrounds around the country. They also have rallies where lots of members get together and share the full timer lifestyle, eat, shop and have fun. (Sounds tough doesn't it?).
The next big rally is in March 2015 in Tucson AZ.

We bought the rig in Yuma Arizona and we've been back there several times. we wanted to try out one of the Escapees parks to see if we liked them (Plus you can camp there for $5 a night if you dry camp and still enjoy all the facilities).

We wanted to explore some of the Tucson/Phoenix area as we've never spent more than a day at either of them and that was at a motorcycle rally so we didn't see much of the scenery. We dug into the Escapee park system and found they had a park in Casa Grande which is about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix.

Only problem was that they don't accept reservations and we were planning the trip for Christmas/New Years and didn't want to risk not having a place to stay in what was both a Holiday and also the Snowbird season, so we searched the Camping Guides we had and looked up the choices on RV Park Review. The highest rated park was Sundance 1 Resort.

Unfortunately the website showed a rule that rigs over 10 years old were not permitted. I called them and they were very pleasant, they explained that they had the rule to keep the standard of the units using the resort high, but if we sent them a current picture of our rig they were sure we'd be OK. 
I sent then the picture and they were happy to accept our reservation. Some people get upset by these park rules, but we're happy enough with them, our rig is clean and well maintained but we've camped next to some that looked more suited to the junk yard than a campground so we appreciate standards being enforced.
Hillbilly Engineering Inc.

We got a weekly rate for most of the stay which worked out to about $22 a night. We think this very reasonably considering the huge amount of activities available and the very high quality of everything in the park.
We also got to sample another facet of the RV lifestyle, a full featured RV Resort.

This is a FULL feature resort with indoor/outdoor heated pool, spa, card room, sewing room, ceramics rooms, woodworking/craft center. A huge social gathering room with a stage for bands etc. Sports facilities, the list is seemingly endless. There are organized quilting groups, wood carvers. So much stuff that one BIG wall of the activities office is lined with row after row of sign up sheets for all the things to do.
There is no excuse for being bored at this park and everyone we've met has been more than willing to talk about their experiences here. Most of them seem to have come here like us for a couple of weeks and liked it so much they stayed. I can see why.

To get us out and exploring we visited the Arizona Tourist Board office in Casa Grande. The town of Casa Grande is fairly rural, they are working on bringing the historical main street area back as an attraction. Meanwhile the area outside the center has plenty of stores and there is a big mall closer to Interstate 10. Casa Grande is where Interstates 8 and 10 join so there is plenty of passing trade for them.

We decided to drive towards Phoenix and visit a Market/Swap Meet in Mesa then go over to the Commemorative Air Force Museum which is fairly close to the Swap Meet. It's about 1 1/2 hrs from Casa Grande on I10 mainly.
The swap meet is HUGE! The flyer said they have 1 1/2 miles of aisles and they didn't exaggerate. It's all covered and there is lots of free parking. There's no admission charge either so this is a great place to browse, which we did in full. We had lunch in a central area where they had a country band playing and tables to sit at. Good food and very reasonably priced.

Next was my treat, the Commemorative Air Force Museum.
I'm not ashamed to say that I've been an airplane nut since I was tiny. I vaguely remember going to an airshow when I was 5 or 6. I was in the Air Cadets in UK and flew a glider solo when I was 16. I'm definitely what could be described as an enthusiast.

Barbara? Not so much, but she puts up with my passion and ignores me yakking about the specifications of each airplane when she's not really interested!

This facility at Falcon Field in Mesa has some British history too. It was one of the facilities used in WW2 to train UK aircrew for the RAF. There is a small graveyard for those that perished during that training.

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) used to be known as the Confederate Air Force. They were founded in Texas in the 60's to collect and preserve in flying condition, aircraft that flew during WW2. Back then such aircraft were considered fit for scrap but thru their efforts many unique aircraft have survived and still fly. Many people in the preservation world would like to see these aircraft permanently grounded as they consider the risk of accidents during flight too great. 
To me an aircraft in the sky is the ultimate experience. One stuck in a hanger is less than half the beast. Without the sound of the engines and the sight of it swiftly dashing thru the sky an aircraft is just a collection of parts stacked in a pleasing pile.
Fly them and be damned!!
Not that I'm a airplane nut or anything...

The Arizona Wing of the CAF operates one of the prettiest B17's in the world. Kind of strange to call a machine designed to drop bombs on people "Pretty" but this one is. From the flowing lines of the airplane to the polished surface and on to the fantastic nose art of Betty Grable in a swim suit, this aircraft pushes all the buttons for me.

Sentimental Journey
(By sheer chance I met the pilot of this very airplane 3 years later at a fly-in in Casa Grande!)

With several other aircraft in the collection and the chance to see the restoration workshop close up I was in heaven. 

And Barbara, well she put up with me.

Continuing to explore Casa Grande we discovered that Casa Grande is named for the Casa Grande (Who'd a thunk it?).

The town was named Terminus when it was the end of the railroad track, but when they extended the railroad past here they picked a new name.

There are ruins of a Native American settlement here (actually about 30 miles away from here) that include what was a 4 story building that the Spanish missionaries named "Great House" or "Casa Grande" in Spanish.

It's a National Historic Monument and was in fact the very first Architectural Historic Monument in the nation, set up in 1914.

These places are bread and butter for Barbara and I, we both love history. Finding off the beaten track places and learning about them makes a trip memorable.

Casa Grande

A protective shield was built to protect the main ruin in the 30's as the structure is built from local clay which although like concrete when dried will suffer from erosion over the years. The walls in the foreground were approximately 7 feet tall originally. The floors in the main building were logs brought from over 60 miles away covered in the stiff ribs from inside the cactus and topped by more dried clay.
Holes for the logs show the line of a floor

The area includes several adjoining settlements and a "Ball Court", which is an oval banked stadium in the center of the community. 

Water was brought by man made canals over 16 miles in length from the Gila River and allowed the dwellers to grow corn and other crops. Shells from the Gulf of Baja have been found here and were used for jewelry and trade.

I found this to be a hauntingly beautiful place, I expect it will be appearing in some of my paintings before too long.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you're having a great time over there in AZ. Have a Happy New Year.