Willcox, Arizona, is just off I-10, 100 miles east of Catalina State Park, our current home base (click here to read our review). Its small, historic downtown is bisected by the east/west railroad; perhaps its biggest claim to fame is the Rex Allen Museum. To birders, it is known for the winter population of Sandhill Cranes and a chance to spot the Elegant Trogon in summer; for hikers, Willcox is a gateway to the trails of Chiricahua National Monument, Ft. Bowie, and Cochise Stronghold.
We made the drive for a much different reason: the wine (and, particularly, the “bartender”, my cousin Rosanna)!
Not much action in historic Willcox when I took this photo standing in the middle of the street.
The Rex Allen Museum draws fans of Westerns to Willcox; head next door to taste wine.
It is hard for me to picture Cochise County as a hotbed of wine production – and, compared to the wine producing regions of California, I’m sure it isn’t. Nevertheless, grape growing and winemaking has developed considerably there in the past decade. When my BIL Frank opened a gift bottle of Keeling-Schaefer red wine for us a few months ago in Sacramento, we were impressed – it was far above the quality of the wine we usually consume, quite luscious. I guess there IS a noticeable difference between a $5 bottle and a $20 bottle!
Keeling-Schaefer Winery has a tasting room in Willcox, right next door to the Rex Allen Museum in what was originally a bank. Since we haven’t seen my cousin Rosanna in way too long, since she manages the tasting room, and since we like good wine, a road trip was in order.
It took at least half an hour to get from Catalina State Park to I-10, where we joined the stream of 18-wheelers roaring east at 75 miles an hour. Past the turnoff to the fairgrounds (FHU RV sites there), past Gas City with it rip-off diesel prices, past Benson with its many RV parks, past the big billboards for The Thing, past the beautiful (but closed) Texas Canyon Rest Area, rollin’ on toward Willcox.
This time of year, when the grass is brown and dry and the trees completely leafless, the beauty of the landscape relies on the play of light on the arid mountains. With Sunday’s heavy cloud cover, no such luck. Instead, we reminisced about the many trips we have made to Cochise County, the wild weather we have experienced there, the fun we have had there. And then, we were in Willcox.
What a lovely little tasting room! The pressed tin ceiling, the hardwood floor, and the front doors were retained when the 1917 Willcox Bank and Trust building was remodeled. The walls are hung with original art, each piece for sale. Of course, the centerpiece is the tasting bar, where Rosanna took a break from her work long enough to run around the bar and give us each a BIG HUG (special treatment, I think).
Since we were there primarily to visit, we settled on a couple of stools, then slowly made our way through the tasting list while we watched Rosanna at work and interacted with the various groups of tasters who came and went during the afternoon. We met several RV’ers, including a couple who started their fulltime adventure just last August. Rod and Jan Keeling-Schaefer stopped in, so we got to chat a bit with the winemakers, and we met the artist who also manages the small art gallery.
What a pleasant way to spend a relaxed afternoon!
When we finally left, around 4 pm, we drove across the railroad tracks to the Willcox Elks to check out their RV parking (spacious and level, on dirt/gravel, with water and electricity at the sites), then turned back to the west. On the edge of town, we stopped at El Ranchito for an early Mexican dinner (to soak up a little of the vino sloshing around our stomachs). I wish I could recommend the restaurant to you if you visit Willcox, but this is its last week of operation – the owners are moving away.
A few miles from Tucson, we drove into a mighty rainstorm. A wash in Catalina State Park is well known for flooding during heavy rain, cutting the campground off from the entrance/exit (click here to read about our experience a couple years ago); we were happy that the rain didn’t hang around long enough to cause any problems this time.
As I write this on Monday, the sun is shining, Odel is on the golf course, and I can see our friends Alex and Ellen setting up their motorhome two spaces down from ours (after they spent a night in the overflow lot of this VERY popular park). They are coming for dinner tonight; I have posole (a pork and hominy stew served with toppings of raw vegies) in the crockpot. For dessert? Something special: Keeling-Schaefer 2007 Caldera Red Dessert Wine (made from Syrah grapes in a port-like style) with Safeway’s outstanding Chewy Chocolate cookies. I’d better get out for my 10,000 steps!