Friday, February 10, 2006

Snowbird? Or Winter Visitor?

The sauce of traveling is its surprises.
Writer/columnist Jim Klobuchar

On Wednesday I afternoon Jeremiah, Cat and I settled in space 439 at Sierra del Saguaro in Apache Junction, Arizona (east of Phoenix on highway 60). This 55+ facility that is the winter home to snowbirds is hopping with activity because it is their annual Sierra Week. This facility is also a “no pets” place! So, my curtains are closed so that no one sees Cat! I’m sure Cat would at least like to be able to look out the window, but I can’t take a chance of being booted out of the park.

I’m at this park because it is where my Cousin Gloria Timm has wintered for the past 27 years – the rest of the time she lives in a small town in southern Minnesota. Needless to say, Gloria knows just about everybody here, which means I’ve met a lot of folks. Most of them are here to escape the bitter cold weather of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada. Many of them are farmers and can recoup from last year’s farming season and plan next year’s under the Arizona sun instead of from their bitterly cold – and often snowed in - homes.

This makes them “snowbirds” – or at least that is what they’ve been called for years. Say “snowbirds,” to locals and they think of bad driving, long lines and other annoyances. Merchants, however, do appreciate how the snowbirds contribute to the economy. In fact, thanks to the snowbirds, places such as Apache Junction have gone from tiny dots on the map to thriving towns. An effort to change the image is behind the move to start calling snowbirds “winter visitors.”

(As an aside, these same Arizonans who complain about the invasion of snowbirds are the bane of San Diegans who rue the invasion of the “Zonies” escaping the heat in the summer!)

Sierra Week Activities
Things are hopping here because it is “Sierra Days” at the park. Before I arrived, various tournaments had been held: bridge, cribbage, pinochle, whist, 500, wizard, pool, shuffleboard and horseshoes.

Thursday’s events included horse races, golf cart races and a dance. As I looked at the schedule, I couldn’t imagine how they could have horse races. I was eager to attend, camera in hand.

The horse races
Six “jockeys” arrived on stick horses! I imagined them running to the finish line. Nope. They lined up at the “gate” to the applause and encouragement of the race fans that had already placed their bets (25 cents each). The announcer rolled three dice, and horses advanced from one line to the next if their number was called. (reminded me of the children’s game of “mother may I”) This continued until a horse reached the finish line. Bets were paid off, new bets made. The horses raced about six times.

The golf cart races
Not just ordinary golf carts – they were decorated to match the event theme: South of the Border.

Friday morning was a blur of activity: the annual park-wide patio sale, bake sale, coffee and cookies, and craft sale, followed by lunch in the clubhouse. The big attraction in the afternoon (that is unless you chose to take a nap or play card games with neighbors) was the Jam Session and that was followed by Bingo in the evening. Gloria and I opted to play cards – progressive rummy.