Friday, February 16, 2007

Cowboys, Indians and tomatoes - Willcox

Feb. 14 – 16, 2007

On the drive from Pancho Villa State Park to Willcox, Arizona I encountered rain, sleet and wind. The sky would be ominously dark and then in a few miles I’d be back in sunshine. Ahh, the life of a traveling home.

I settled into the RV parking at the Willcox Elks Lodge; nice flat sites with electricity and water. And just a block or so from the well-traveled railroad track. No problem for me – I love trains.

Willcox Elks Lodge

I walked over to the RV parked nearby and met Jim and Barbara from Tennessee. They were headed east to south Texas and I recommended they stay a night or two at PVSP. Then I met another RVing couple staying here and they told me they had heard about this great state park in New Mexico and were headed there next – the park? Pancho Villa! And when I was talking to a local in the Lodge, she said if I was headed east I should definitely swing by PVSP! They had been there recently and were amazed at the spaciousness of the park and the new museum. Wow! Word is getting out.

The Lodge serves dinners on Wednesdays and Fridays. I had some delicious steak fingers, French fries topped with very tasty gravy - definitely not a well-rounded meal. I met some locals who made recommendations for my exploration of the small town.

I went to bed thinking about going to a café for breakfast. What I didn’t consider was what the weather would be like. I awoke to 28-degrees – frost on everything. At 9 a.m. it has warmed up to 30 degrees! Way too cold to walk several blocks hoping to find a promising café.

Today – Thursday – I explored the two “main” streets of town. In its heyday, Willcox had a lumberyard, general store, seven bars/saloons, drug store, hotel, hardware, dry goods, banks, hotels/rooming houses, movie house, jail and Southern Pacific depot. Wyatt Earp’s brother Warren was shot to death at the Headquarters saloon in 1900.

During the 1930s, Willcox was the largest USA rail-shipping center of range cattle

Willcox has Arizona’s only remaining Southern Pacific depot that was built in 1880; it has been restored and now houses City Hall.

Willcox is home to the Arizona Cowboy Rex Allen Museum and the Chiricahua Regional Museum. As I went into and out of various shops, I kept smelling the aroma of coffee and soon discovered an Espresso shop. Perfect for a break. The proprietor was putting a just-baked apple pie out, so my afternoon snack was pie and coffee.

I had considered leaving on Friday, but quickly changed my mind when I found out that the country’s largest tomato-growing facility was nearby – perhaps I could get a tour. After making a phone call and speaking to the marketing manager, I had a 1 p.m. appointment.

Friday morning I took care of some writing and got Jeremiah ready for travel. EuroFresh Farms – “Home of America’s best-tasting tomatoes” – is about 25 miles north of Willcox. In spite of taking a wrong road (about 6 miles of dirt/gravel washboard) I got back on track, drove through flat, farming country almost to the base of the nearby mountains, and soon saw a sea of greenhouses in the distance. Wow!

My tour included two of many huge greenhouse complexes. Each massive complex is self-contained: computerized climate control, growing and packing areas. Here tomatoes are grown hydroponically. They use no herbicides or pesticides, and the tomatoes taste just like tomatoes should. Last stop on my tour was the marketing manager’s office where a large box of tomatoes awaited me. It included all the varieties they grow: cherry, beefsteak, yellow and orange, and the fairly new Compari.

After I returned and re-parked at the Elks Lodge, I met Kathy and Randy Richard from Sierra Vista, Arizona. The three of us walked to the Railroad Car for dinner and then stopped at the Blue House Music and Café (open-mike on Friday nights – we declined) for coffee. Tomorrow I’ll drive to Tucson.