Friday, April 10, 2009

Outback Adventure In My Backyard

We had the whole day on April 6 to leisurely drive the 85 miles (136 km) or so around our 10,800 foot (3300 meter) “sky island” - so called because it is such a tall peak, set amid the usual Sonoran desert landscape. The experts say that traveling up to the top of Mt Graham is like moving from Mexico to Canada in biological life zones. But this day we intended to spend in the grassland zone at the highland base.

After picking up a couple Subway sandwiches and filling up with gas, the husband, the dog and I left town in our Toyota RAV4 for a day in very remote parts of Graham county. We turned south on unpaved Klondyke Road at Eden, Arizona and about 10 miles (16 km) out came to the site of the 1889 Wham paymaster robbery that netted thieves a half million in gold and silver coin. It was intended to be paid out at nearby Fort Thomas and at Fort Apache on the White River in the White Mountains. Three good Army mules died in the attack, but fortunately for the 12 Buffalo soldiers guarding the wagon train only 8 men sustained non-fatal wounds. Sadly Major Wham’s Army career suffered badly from this incident although it was hardly his fault. The road passed through a defile, or narrow rocky passage that was perfect for an ambush. The bandits had the advantage of higher ground, defensive works, repeating rifles, secrecy and surprise. However 7 “cowboys” were arrested and tried for the crime but all were found innocent by the jury. It was a great sensational trial and the embarrassment of the authorities at being unable to have safe passage in Graham County led to less than favorable opinions when it came to admitting Arizona to the Union as a state. Statehood was delayed for years as a direct result of this lawless incident, the ambush at Bloody Run.

We proceeded down Klondyke Road and explored up Cedar Springs Road. Ate lunch up in a jumble of giant Granite boulders that look as if a giant child was playing with rocks and got tired or bored and left everything a hodgepodge. Small caves and narrow passages create a marvelous place to play hide and seek.

Next we drove down into Aravaipa Canyon, causing a deer to stop and give us a look, which we repaid. But mostly we saw cattle. Brown cattle, red cattle, and lots of black cattle. Calves, cows, and several bulls - a couple who reluctantly moved off the road for us.

We explored up Forest Road 672 which would have been the route of the Army wagons took after leaving Fort Grant that May 11th 1889, nearly 120 years ago. Discovered a nicely built animal water tank with a constant flow of clean, clear mountain water. Snow is melting off Mt Graham so despite the drought in the lower elevations, plenty of refreshment can be channeled into catchments for cattle and wildlife. I went to wash my hands from eating an orange when my dog decided to honor her herding heritage and she went after a couple mama cows and calves. It is beyond me why a 500 pound (226 kg) cow runs for her life when pursued by a 50 pound (22 kg) dog.

We drove through the tiny old ranching settlement of Bonita, Arizona and then headed up on a paved road through Stockton Pass on the south side of Mt Graham. At a level area the Forest Service maintains a pleasant picnic and campsite at the 5700 foot (1740 meter) level where we stopped for a snack of strawberries and bananas. It’s grassy with mature Juniper and Oak trees and so scenic because it’s up close to the steep mountain flank that rises to 9,000 feet (2740 meters) right above you.

From there it is a downhill road back to our little rancho on the east side of Mt Graham. Back to civilization.