Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chiricahua National Monument

The Apache Indian people called the area of Chiricahua National Monument the Land of the Standing Up Rocks. The experts say these pinnacles, spires, and balanced rocks had their origin as volcanic ash spewed from the Turkey Creek Volcano 27 million years ago. The melted ash formed a gray rock called Ryolite. Eventually ice, wind and water have sculpted the formations we see today. Whatever the science is, it is a delight to visit as we three did on January 27. Unfortunately dogs were not allowed on the trails we walked, but Keesha behaved admirably as a guardian at our truck camper.

The dead end road into the Monument begins at the grassland elevation of 5124 feet or 1562 meters. About 2 miles or 3 km beyond the entrance is the Visitor Center where a short film is shown, displays are exhibited and books and t-shirts are sold. This was the Oak-Juniper tree elevation.

We drove up Bonita Canyon and observed the amazing formations which practically grew straight up from the road. The elevation continued to increase until we stopped at Echo Canyon to go on a short hike. A cold wind blew in this exposed spot at 6780 feet or 2066 m, but we bundled up and strolled down the trail to snap photos and eventually reach the Echo Canyon Grotto. The grotto is a large site, a natural jumble of huge Ryolite boulders forming a playful spot for people. We had the place to ourselves on this raw winter weekday. The wind howled through there, a natural air-conditioning which was not needed
on a day that had us navigating on packed snow on shady parts of the trail. But it was still a delightful place.

Snow on a section of the Echo canyon trail:

After lunch in the camper and hot coffee to warm up, we continued to the end of the road at Massai Point. Not named after an African tribe - those are the Maasai- Massai was an Apache Scout who worked for the US Cavalry in the days of the Indian Wars.

A short but scenic and educational nature trail at this highest elevation point (6870 ft, 2094 m) explains more details about this wild land. The vast majority of the Monument since 1976 is designated as Wilderness Area, which is protected by federal law for non-motorized recreation such as backpacking and horseback riding. The law prohibits logging, roads, and mechanized vehicles including bicycles.

The only place to spend the night in the Monument is in the Bonita Canyon campground. So hikers on the Heart of the Rocks trail, which is 9.5 miles or 15.4 km long, are expected to be out by the end of the day, but it is really the best and most scenic trip among the rocks. I’d love to do it someday.

We backtracked down to the Visitors Center where I bought a bunch of postcards for my postcard swapping hobby.

Then our last stop in the Park before heading home was the 1888 homestead of the Swedish immigrant Erickson family. It was a working cattle ranch, then a Guest Ranch. It is named The Faraway Ranch:

Finally it was sold per the family’s wishes to the National Park Service in 1979. The home itself has many original antique furnishings and the tour by a helpful volunteer gave us a real taste of what such a frontier life must have been like.

Sadly we packed up and headed for home, a mere 75 miles or 120 km distant, believing we’d arrive before nightfall. Unfortunately an old front right tire decided to come apart and we had to pull over and change it. Things were progressing as well as could be expected until we had to hoist the tire onto the lugs. Fortunately a young man stopped right at the crucial time and he helped us finish the dirty job. At least it was still light out. But the road, Arizona 186, was practically deserted. In the 30 to 45 minutes we were there, only 4 vehicles passed by us. That’s life in the boonies! Yet we still had help. Contrast that to a more populated area where 100 vehicles might go by and nobody stops to aid a motorist.

So we hit the road again, hoping that was the only and the last hiccup. As we drove through the tiny, mostly abandoned town of Dos Cabezas, a herd of mule deer doe crossed the road. Four passed in front of us, and four waited for their turn to cross after we passed. Dos Cabezas isn’t a ghost town - it has resident deer!

We got home later than expected, but in one piece and with a lot of fond memories.

Me in The Grotto:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trip to Pinery Canyon

On sunny but cool January 26th, my husband, our dog Keesha, and I drove south for a couple days of recreation in the Chiricahua Mountains. We traveled Interstate 10 east for 27 miles (43 km) and exited at San Simon. This small farm community of less than 1000 is the last population center before reaching the New Mexico state line. Then we headed south on the Paradise Road, which crosses fairly barren terrain held by the state and the federal BLM (Bureau of Land Management.) It is scrubland with some Mesquite trees.

Eventually the land rises in elevation. Evidences remote residences are seen: mailboxes. About 24 miles (38 km) from San Simon, Paradise is reached. The most remarkable thing about this lovely village was the two doe deer we saw laying in a side yard. In plain view. Just resting in the speckled shade. Maybe they thought we couldn’t see them?

A deer in Paradise -

Beyond Paradise, we drove up higher and higher into the forested mountains. The road turned snow covered in the shaded northern exposures. We passed a large road grader machine plowing snow. After we crossed the Onion Saddle at 7600 feet (2300 meters) above sea level, the road headed downhill in Pinery Canyon.
Pinery Canyon Road:

From the truck I glimpsed a Coues Whitetail buck deer with a trophy rack of antlers. He was still carrying this obvious symbol of his sex even though the mating season has passed.

When we got down to 5740 ft (1750 meters) there were several primitive campsites on each side of the road, so we picked a scenic spot under Oak and Juniper trees to spend the night. After setting up, we went for a hike uphill to enjoy the warm sunshine. See photo.

Later I got out my handgun and shot a few rounds to practice. Then we gathered firewood and I cooked supper, a venison stew over rice.

The campfire was delightful, both for its warmth and the unmistakable sweet scent of Juniper wood. We sat in the night and enjoyed the dancing flames. Keesha charmingly dragged sticks of firewood aside to make a pile of “her” sticks. The stars showed ferociously intense. We were so very far from any artificial light. It was beautiful.

Went to sleep in the camper to the sound of absolutely nothing. Incredible quiet. Even the heater made no noise.

That little fan-less heater kept the camper quite warm. Morning temperature was 25°F (-4°C) when I took the dog for a walk at dawn. Not one vehicle had passed our campsite for nearly 16 hours. Did the world end and nobody told us? Soon we packed up and headed down the road for the Chiricahua National Monument. That is the subject of my next post.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

It's a Prop

There are probably a hundred more important subjects to write about today, but I am compelled to share these thoughts.

I am an unabashed believer in representative democracy. It is not perfect. No system run by mere men will ever be without blemish. There are aspects to other forms of government that are attractive. Perhaps they work well in other countries. But the US is a unique culture. Socialism has admirers but I can’t see it being viable in the land of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln.

On a vastly different note, there is an erectile dysfunction drug called Cialis. In case you had not noticed, the word “cialis” is buried within the word “socialism.”

Thanks to a man named Chip I now have this thought -

“Cialis and Socialism: both propping up a good time by artificial means.”

I warned you this posting was not going to be very important!