From the safety of the bus, we can see that Kelly and Anya are hard at work with Language Arts- in the tranquil desert setting near Douglas, Arizona

Departed Tucson last Saturday, and we were happy to go. I’m sure there are a lot of nice folks there but unfortunately, we didn’t run into them. Anytime Kelly and I have a discussion, she quotes things (usually what I’ve said in the past), and I relate general ‘feelings’ after something happens. I rarely can cite specifics because I think that I store the generalities of things, versus details in most situations. So we left Tucson and I can’t tell you exactly why we’re happy to be rolling again, but it was just an OK town.

Tombstone was too close to miss, so we headed that way. Sure enough, the OK corral is there, and under heavy cover so that if you happened to be on the street at 2pm when the daily gunfight went down, you would be able to hear it, but no way to see it- unless you plunked down the $10 a head to watch the re-enactment. We ambled along the Tombstone streets, having arrived at 5pm as most of the shopkeepers were closing up for the day- although the Wild West bars were just getting started. We stopped into the newspaper office and had a pleasant conversation with the lady in charge behind the counter- she was the nicest Arizona local we’d talked to in days… Finally, I had to ask something I was embarrassed to reveal: What was the big deal about the gunfight at the OK Corral? Sure we remembered hearing about it (the name was so easy to recall) but WHAT made it such a big deal? She conceded that the gunfight was only 30 seconds long, and probably not that significant, but remembered colorfully and therefore there were songs about it and dramatic stories and now it was a tourist boon for this little neck of the AZ woods. We opted to camp out on the side of the road in Tombstone, next to the shuttered High School that was for sale. Kind of spooky, old, now lifeless building with a football field that looked like you could turn on the lights for the coin toss and get things started…. Most nights we sleep with all of the (screened) windows open, which means that just 12-18 inches from my head is the entrance for all of the local noises that come our way. I must have awakened half a dozen times that night and looked out the window, and thought that we were parked at home, along Moraine Avenue just up from downtown. Don’t know why, but it happened multiple times. Weird. Always a little activity there, too. Someone stumbling along the sidewalk, high school kid revving as he rolled by or someone honking the horn (again) as they passed. Tombstone reminded us of Central City, Colorado when it was a cool old west town, before the gambling disease set in.

While looking for a place to stay that night, we happened across a listing on the free campground website for Belle Starr’s Silverado Ranch. The more we read about it, the more intrigued we became. Our plan was to stop by there Sunday morning and take a look for ourselves. It turned out to be the highlight of this trip so far- so impressed are we that Kelly is ready to do a little writing and try to capture the feeling of this little Arizona ranch:

Maybe they were nervous about 7 kids coming to the ranch from out of nowhere? The chickens flocked into the trees, on the first day we were here (and didn't any other day). Right, not so smart to stand under the chickens in trees, Trevor! At least he had the sense to keep his mouth closed.

Wow, almost four months into our trip and I am finally making it to the computer to write a here goes….

We really weren’t sure what we would find or how long we would stay after reading about this 40 acre ranch in southeast Arizona. We knew only that an 80ish year old women named Belle had owned this ranch for about 20 years and that she welcomed boondockers to stay and help out.  We pulled by the side of the road and Trevor, Ethan and I were sent in ahead of the group to find out what the protocol was for staying here.  We were greeted by 3 large dogs, 2 peacocks and 1 free roaming horse but no people in sight.  We finally braved it through the animals to the front door of a little old house and found Belle at home in her wheelchair.  She had a cute ponytail fountain and full makeup including a flash back to one of my junior high essentials- blue mascara!  She invited us to make ourselves at home for the afternoon, park our bus in her back acres, visit the animals and return the next morning around ten when she comes out to make her rounds. 

Catching up with the infamous Belle Starr on her daily rounds. She is a sweet hostess with a herd of wild animals (plus, she has some sweet donkeys, horses and other farm animals).

That first afternoon we were a bit overwhelmed with what we found.  Belle doesn’t have just an animal or two.  She has 17 mini burros (3 babies and 2 obviously pregnant), 4 large mules, 2 Shetland ponies, 1 Clydesdale horse, and 20ish horses including one colt. Then there are the feathered animals which include 3 large geese, 2 peacocks, chickens, hens, roosters, flocks of pigeons, and a talking parrot. 

No less than 5 of us had our hands on this dogwash, in the bathtub (that would become a fountain a couple of days later). A little flea and tick shampoo and a stiff brush cleaned Shadow right up.

The next morning, as promised, Belle traded in her wheelchair for a motorized scooter and she was out and about visiting all the animals and our family.  She gave us the run down on how to feed all the animals, where everything was, keys to sheds and the gator and then sent us off to help out as much or as little as we desired.  Well, the kids (and parents too) were ready to be outside and have some meaningful work to do so we got to it.  Trevor and Ethan started with feeding the big animals, Lauren and Anya got right in with the mini burros to start the grooming all 17 of them (no more mats in any of their Mohawks) Mark worked on cleaning up the fire ring area and Meila and I started in with raking up the yards near Belle’s house. 

Albeit camera shy, Lauren jumped right in with the donkeys and brushed 'em all.

Each day we find new adventures and treasures..50 pounds of carrots at the local Food City is only $13 and good for two full days of treats for the animals (we are on our 2nd bag), a mysterious noise in the tack shed heard on and off for two days turns out to be a real live rattlesnake (later researched and identified by Ethan to be a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake which is responsible for more bites and deaths than  any other snake in the US), the rattle snake has moved under the tack shed but the boys remain hopeful that they may see (and kill) it before we leave. The little boys have loved the dirt, rocks, and sticks almost as much as petting the animals.

What's it called when your kids won't lift a finger at your own house, but will break their back and haul hundreds of pounds of debris for the neighbors? Strange phenomenon, but appreciated by the neighbors.

Another interesting thing here is the proximity to the Mexico border (about 6 miles) and the high level of activity of the border patrol.  It is just something that we have had no experience with and so it is very obvious and somewhat obtrusive.  It seems that every other truck on the highway is BP in addition to 4-wheelers combing the fields and helicopters flying VERY low with their spot lights searching the ranch.  To be fair, I guess our big bus and big white van may look a bit suspicious and would probably hold a lot of people if we were in the people shuttling business.  Probably a bit of a disappointment to find only our family working on the ranch and not a new coyote shuttle bus in town. 

This is not a good example of how close our friends at Border Patrol would come- it's just the first chance I had with the camera. They had just flown over the ranch and were concentrating on the field across the highway.The night before, they were a couple of hundred feet above ground with their brilliant lights -- until they went completely dark and hurtled through the dark atmosphere, invisible onto the next search area.

We have now found ourselves here for a whole week and will probably be heading on tomorrow.  Today we will put the finishing touches on the projects we have taken on.  Mark has made some nice new signs to direct people who come to help out.  The fire ring is beautiful and working well (we have had two bond fires), our fountain should be running today, and we have straightened, rearranged and raked most of the areas around her house.  We have truly enjoyed our time here and getting to know Belle more.  Each day she tells us new stories of her life and her dreams.  She would love to find a partner who could help her move forward in fulfilling her vision of providing a ranch to children, especially special needs children, where they could come ride and spend time with her animals in a “real” old-west type environment.  For the right person it would be a pretty neat opportunity!

The snake. Inside the tack shed, behind a wire rack laying on its side. The distinct black and white pattern were very visible, and the sound was remarkable, like air hissing out of a tire it was such a quick rattle. A sound we'll never forget having now all heard it first hand in the wild!