Our September 2007 Trip to Show Low, AZ 


Hi again,

I really did not expect to write a trip report on this trip, but we are doing so much that is interesting that I thought you might be interested also.

This is a short Sun Country Road Runners (SCRR) trip to Show Low lasting from Tuesday, Sept 4 through Friday, September 7.  We then plan to drive less than 50 miles to Forest Lakes to visit Keith and Virg Scholl on our way home from this campout.  This campout started just a week after getting home from our August trip!

Tuesday, Sept. 4
Rosemarie and I left about 7:45 for about a 4 hour drive to Show Low, AZ.  We will be spending several days there on a combined SCRR and Elks campout.  Many of the SCRR members are also members of the BPOE and sometimes combine the campouts.  We will be staying at the Elks Lodge in Show Low with 10 other motorhomes (and their occupants).  In addition, our hosts and one other couple live in Show Low, and will not actually be camping with us, but will be participating in our activities.

Our spot in the Elk Lodge RV park was beautiful!  The only problem was the slope toward the front required blocks under the front wheels and the maximum lift of the airbags.

The step from the stool up to the door step was about all we could reach!

We arrived shortly after noon following a smooth drive up to I40, east to Holbrook, and south to Show Low.  We are in a beautiful area of Ponderosa Pines, and all have full hookup spaces.  The only problem is that our space has quite a slope toward the front.  I had to put all the blocks I carry under my front wheels, and then my airbag leveling just barely got us level.  Our activities started shortly after we got set up.  We all drove over to a development nearby where our hosts live, the White Mountain Vacation Village.  We were given a tour of the club house and then the various units, some consisting of park model trailers with an expanded "Arizona Room" and covered car ports.  They are finished in natural wood siding and with the expansion room are 640 (it may be slightly more) square feet.  They all are this size as that is the maximum size that can still be called an "RV".  This development is just for RV's.  Other areas truly contained RV's.  There were many trailers and fifth wheels permanently installed with porches and metal awnings, along with landscaping and gazebos.  Others were parking slabs with full hookups for owners of RV's to use for temporary stays.  It was very nice.

After the tour we had "heavy Hor s'doeuvers" as our dinner, along with a lot of conversation.

Wednesday, Sept. 5
We had a heavy schedule today!  We had breakfast together consisting of pancakes, eggs, sausage patties, and fruit.  After breakfast, we immediately loaded up our cars and headed a number of miles away to the town of Whiteriver to the Fort Apache Timber Company.  This is a sawmill owned and operated by the Whiteriver Apache Indian tribe.  After getting fitted with hard-hats in the office, we took a tour of the mill showing all the operations from bringing in stacks of raw logs to stacking the finish milled lumber for shipment.  I hope I am fairly accurate in describing the operations, as our tour guide was quite soft-spoken, and the noise in the mill was very loud!

The first step at the sawmill was to get fitted with hard hats all around.
As the sawmill is not located on a body of water, the raw log storage is a large field where the logging trucks drop the logs until they are ready to be processed.
This huge claw-loader picks up a large bundle of logs from the storage area and delivers them to the debarker.
The debarker feeds the logs through a grinder which strips the bark off the logs.  The bare logs can be seen on the conveyor to the right and are fed directly into the sawmill.
As we entered the mill, these approximately 3 foot diameter saw blades were stored just outside the door.
On the small mill side, the first operation is for the logs to have a flat side ground by a power cutter.

The first operation is for a fork-lift like machine with giant claws on the front to pick up a stack of raw logs and drive them over to the debarking machine.  Here they are dumped on the starting end of the debarker where the logs are fed one at a time through grinders that remove the bark.  The bare logs are then fed on a conveyor into the sawmill itself.

There were essentially two complete sawmills inside, one for smaller logs and lumber, the other for the large logs and the larger lumber sizes.  On the smaller mill, the first step was for the logs to pass over a large power "rasp" which flattened the bottom of the log.  Then the log was rotated and passed through a monster bandsaw which trimmed off boards from the log.  These boards would then pass through additional sawing stations to establish the proper widths.  At a number of the locations, we could see red laser lines on the logs where the computers were determining the best sawing pattern for that particular log.

The larger sawmill was very much the same except the initial cut was a saw cut, and the resulting lumber tended to be the larger sizes.

There were conveyors everywhere moving lumber, aligning lumber, stacking lumber, etc.  As with anything that irregular, the boards would frequently get crosswise or out of position.  There were a number of workers which would reach in and straighten these boards. 

There are catwalks throughout the sawmill.  There are a lot of steps up and down as it progresses through the mill.
As the logs enter the large side of the sawmill, they are fed into an adjustable stop.  A pivoting chainsaw then cuts the log to the proper length.
The next step in the large side of the mill is this bandsaw.  The approximately 6 inch wide blade has teeth on each edge.  The log first passes from right to left, then the log is moved over and then passes through the blade from left to right.
Stacks of cut board are fed throughout the sawmill on these conveyors.
The huge planers mill either two or four sides of the cut and dried lumber.

In another building were the planer stations.  Depending on the customers desires, they ship the lumber either rough cut, planed two sides, or planed all 4 sides.  While we were there they were running a large order of rough cut lumber, so there was very little wood actually running through the planer area.  From the planer area, the wood is stacked and bound ready for shipment

This tour involved a lot of uphill and downhill walking, as well as many up and down steps, but was well worth any effort we had to expend.

As we left the sawmill, we headed to Fort Apache, a few miles away.  We first entered General Crook's Cabin.  This is the oldest surviving building of the fort, having been built in 1871 as one of the officer's row of buildings.  There are a number of other buildings from as late as 1930.  The fort was an active post during the Indian wars.  After the fort was closed as a military establishment it was (and still is) used as a school founded by Teddy Roosevelt, the Theodore Roosevelt Indian School.  We then visited the Fort Apache Cemetery, which has occupants burried from the late 1800's to as late as 1980.  There were headstones simply labeled "Indian Scout".  Most of the headstones contain no dates.

General Crook's Cabin was built in 1871, and was one of several officer's quarters.
The inside of General Crook's cabin is quite spartan.  There is a bed to the left of this view.
Fort Apache Cemetery has a number of headstones rather randomly arranged.

We left Fort Apache, back past the sawmill, and arrived at a restaurant where we had lunch reservations.  Rosemarie and I had Indian Tacos.  These are often called Navajo Tacos, but here they would have to be called Apache Tacos.  They consist of Indian fry bread covered with beans, lettuce, cheese with onions, salsa, and sour cream on the side.  They were delicious, but were too much after our large breakfast.

After lunch, we loaded back into the cars and headed for a federal fish hatchery a number of miles away.  The last 8 of those miles were on an unpaved road.  After much dust, bumping, and washboard we finally arrived.  Once there, the tour was fascinating!  They receive fish eggs from Montana.  They have to manually go through them, sucking out dead (white) eggs.  If they don't remove them, they grow a fungus and infect the healthy eggs.  They have many large tanks where they allow the fish to grow to about 6 inches long before they take them to the outdoor tanks.  They have a very scientific method of feeding and caring for the young fish.  All the fish we saw were Rainbow Trout, but they raise several other varieties from time to time.

Outdoors they allow the fish to grow to the size they use to stock the various Indian lakes in the vicinity.  The tour was very interesting, and as our tour guide was the biologist in charge, he really knew the answers to our questions.

This is one of the outside tank groups at the hatchery.  There are several buildings in the complex and another outside tank group..
The fish eggs are shipped from Montana.  All the eggs need to be manually scanned and the dead eggs (the white ones) sucked out.  If not removed they develop a fungus which can injure or kill the young fish.

The large fuzzy eggs at the left of the tray have this fungus already.

The inside tanks are filled to a high density of fish.  As they grow, they remove fish to other tanks to maintain the desired density.
Some of our group is gathered around one of the tanks as our host describes the operation.
On one of the outside fish tanks is a Blue Heron salivating over the fish below.  Unfortunately (for him) there are wires across the top of the tanks that would prevent him from flying out were he to drop in.

From the fish hatchery, we hightailed it for "home".  Back at camp we had only about 15 minutes to get to dinner at the Elk's lodge, but we skipped happy hour and just made it in time for a prepared steak dinner.  After dinner we had a demonstration of line dancing by the class from the White Mountain Vacation Village.

From dinner, we went back to the motorhome and were in bed by 8!  We were really beat!

Thursday, Sept. 6
We started with another host-supplied breakfast at the pavilion in the RV park at 7:30.  We then loaded up the cars and headed for the Euro Fresh Tomato Farm in Snowflake, AZ.  When we arrived we saw a couple of huge glass green houses and a couple of conventional buildings.  After we checked in through Security, we were met by our guide, the manager of this location.  Euro Fresh supplies virtually all the vine-grown hydroponic tomatoes in the country.  They have green houses in Willcox, AZ and in Snowflake.  We started and ended our tour in the packing area of the plant, but I'll describe what we saw more in the proper sequence of the tomatoes.

The green houses are positively huge glass buildings.  The glass ceilings are of safety glass with many computer controlled opening panels to control temperature and humidity.  The side walls are conventional glass.  The buildings are separated into a number of chambers by internal glass walls.  This helps limit the scope of problems if there happens to be an infestation in one area.

We are all outfitted with "lovely" hair nets prior to taking the tour.
Our host is showing us how the tomatoes are packed, still on the vines for the maximum shelf life.
The greenhouses are truly massive!  Each one has several compartments, each with a number of rows of plants.
Each vine has its roots in a small coconut based block.  It then extends up to 40 feet, supported by string and an overhead wire.

The tomatoes are in groups of about 5.  The water and fertilizer are applied by a small plastic tube running to each plant.

The plants are planted in a coconut based block.  The block is about 18 inches long, and the plants are in small square containers on the top.  The roots fill the blocks, while the vines extend up to 40 feet.  They are draped horizontally about 20 feet and then rise up to overhead wires which support the weight.  There is a vine about every foot in each of the many rows of plants.  All together they raise about 250,000 plants at this facility.  As the plants grow, they remove the leaves from the bottom several feet.  As the tomatoes start to grow, they pinch off any in a group in excess of 5.  Some grow in groups as low as 3 or 4, and are left as is.  When they reach the proper degree of ripeness, they are picked by groups, with the vines still connecting them, placed in flats, and taken to the packing area.  The tomatoes last significantly longer because they are still on the vine.  The picking is done by inmates from a local prison and are paid an hourly rate with a bonus if they pick a minimum amount.  This goes to repay damages to their victims, pay their expenses, and some to them.  Normally they are the only ones to touch the tomatoes during the process, everything else is automated.

There are no pesticides used, but there is an active program using insects which are natural enemies of the pests which attack the plants.  For pollination, they use bumble bees, not honey bees.  Every plant has a drip irrigation line which supplies the needed water and the mixed in fertilizers.  The plants each use 1 gallon of water a day, one third of outdoor, in-the-ground tomatoes.  We saw the equipment which controls the irrigation and the area where they mix the fertilizers to infuse into the water.  They have huge water storage tanks.  The spring water they use is collected in one tank and is carefully controlled.  After the irrigation, about 10 to 20 percent of the water drips through the coconut base and is collected.  This water is then purified and reused.

This unit controls the feeding of the water and fertilizer to all the 250,000 plants.
The packed lugs of tomatoes are moved through the factory on these conveyors.  The two funnel topped machines are the stations which photograph the packed lug and decide where the labels should be applied.  The units just behind these actually place the labels on the tomatoes.
The banding machine takes a pallet load of flats, drops a heavy cardboard angle down each corner, then runs a plastic band around the stack at four levels.

We then saw the machine which places the stickers to the fruit.  Each lug passes through a tunnel with a digital camera and has an image taken.  A computer analyses each tomato and determines where the sticker should be placed, then applies them using soft rubber bellows to avoid any damage to the tomatoes.

After this step, the lugs are passed through a machine which stacks the lugs, 6 lugs to a level, about 22 levels high on a pallet.  From here, the pallet and stack of lugs is advanced to a binding machine.  This machine lowers heavy cardboard angles down to the corners of the stack, and then runs a binding tape around the stack at four levels.  The tomatoes are then taken to a 54 degree room to await shipment.  They are shipped out the same day they are picked, and arrive in refrigerated trucks overnight to West Coast locations.  Usually they are in grocery stores by early morning the day after picking.  They arrive at East Coast locations within 4 days.

Additional facts:  Our guide mentioned that each year they have a crop dusting airplane spray special paint over the roofs of the green houses to help control the temperature during the summer months.  At the end of this time, the duster sprays an acid which removes the paint and leaves the glass sparkling clean.  Also, the vines are used for about 18 months.  After this time the quality of the tomatoes starts to drop, and they remove the vines and start over. The old vines are laid in an adjacent field and at an appropriate time, are burned.  They have plans to build an additional green house along with a power house.  This would be powered by the old vines.

For a "tour of a tomato farm" that I initially felt might be a waste of time, I found the tour to be totally fascinating.  It is really a very well controlled business with a high level of automation.  Upon leaving the plant, each of us was presented with a four-pack of fresh tomatoes in a plastic container. 

We left headed to a nearby ranch (25,000 acres, or so) which has a number of sink holes.  Our hosts know the owner and got permission for us to go on his ranch to see the sink holes.  After many miles of dirt road, we finally pulled off to the side of the road.  From there we walked about a quarter mile to the edge of a very large rock rimmed hole in the ground.  I cannot guarantee  my estimates, but I would guess that the hole was about 500 feet to 1000 feet across.  We then pulled up about another half mile and saw two more sink holes that were right off the road.  These holes were caused by an underground layer of salt getting washed out by ground water seeping through the sandstone to the salt.  With the salt gone, the ground collapsed.  We then drove a bone-jarring number of miles back to the highway. 

The first sink hole we saw was the one we had to hike over to, and was the largest one we saw.
Part of our group is looking over the edge of one of the two sink holes which were just off the road.

We went to a city park in Snowflake where we had a picnic lunch, again supplied by the hosts.  We fired up two of the park barbecues and had hamburger and brats, along with chips, salad, and all the trimmings.  It was delicious and a lot of fun.

Our picnic in the park was a lot of fun!

We went back to camp, and actually had several hours to rest!  Then it was off to a potluck dinner at the pavilion.  Did I ever tell you that we really eat a lot on these outings?

Friday, Sept. 7 through Sunday, Sept, 9
We had a pot-luck breakfast this morning.  As it is the final event of this campout, the time was set at a much more reasonable 8:30.  A number of our rigs pulled out early this morning, so the breakfast was quite small, at about 1/2 the previous attendance.  This in no way limited the quality or the quantity of the food!

After breakfast, we did our final packing for the long trek (48 miles) to the Scholl's house in Forest Lakes, where we spent Friday and Saturday nights.  We had a great time with them, working on several "tasks" around their place, and continuing to eat far too much!

Sunday morning, we were getting ready to leave when Virg, who was on-duty as the volunteer fire department dispatcher, received a call of an accident.  It was an ATV that rolled over at a remote location on a forest road.  It was fascinating to hear the phone and radio calls needed to coordinate everything.  As the crews went out the back roads toward the accident, there were additional calls about the condition of the victim (broken bones, internal injuries).  The paramedics requested a helicopter to be put on standby.  Upon reaching the accident they gave the latitude/longitude coordinates of the landing area they had scouted out and requested the helicopter.  We followed the various arrivals of the crews and the helicopter, and finally the lift-off of the helicopter enroute to the trauma center and the "departing for quarters" call from the ambulance and fire rig.  I knew that Virg was one of a number of local dispatchers, but had no idea of the complexity of the job.  I am impressed!

As I stated earlier, I had not intended to even write a report of this short trip, but I hope you have enjoyed some of our activities as much as we did!


Dick and Rosemarie



Dick Mason, Prescott, AZ 9/10/07