Memorial Day has snuck up on us already. The unofficial summer season begins today. Back east, our friends and family have opened swimming pools, drug their Webber grills out of the garage, and finally put on shorts—with white belts and black socks. Meanwhile, here in the desert, we’re beginning to think of clever ways to stay cool for the next three months. This year, Queen Anne and I have come up with some new places to visit, but we have to stop buying food to have gas money.
Before worrying about surviving June and its 110º temperatures, we need to finish May. So, let’s return to our Cochise County Road 186 project, jump into the car, and find one last shot. Then we can drive into Willcox, where I know of a decent Mexican restaurant for dinner.
With the ghost town of Dos Cabezas in the rearview mirror, the county road begins to drop from the foothills into the Sulphur Springs Valley. All of the time, the ‘two-headed’ mountain range looms in the east. The south head blocks its northern twin brother from town, so we will drive several miles until both outcrops are visible. That turned out to be a spot where I could hike past a ranch gate and get this week’s picture.
At first glance, the range resembles a two-headed giant with 15-mile broad shoulders that I’ve seen in cartoons. The twin heads are weathered granite, and the highest one (the south) is 8,354 feet in elevation. That’s not as impressive as it sounds because the valley floor has an average height of 4,000 feet above sea level, but Interstate 10 still detours several miles north of the left shoulder to get around the range. A dirt road on the range’s south side divides the Dos Cabezas and Chiricahua ranges. That road goes to the historic site of Fort Bowie through the ominous Apache Pass. Since that road served as the main trail from New Mexico into Southern Arizona, the Cavalry built the old fort to quell the frequent ambushes by renegade Apaches.
I call this photo Dos Cabezas Mountains because I have a vivid imagination. The sky looked clear and blue, but a few clouds to the south cast shadows over the range. Fortunately, that saved this image from being flat and lifeless. The dark-green patches near the mountain top are tall ponderosa pines. In this picture, the land traverses three climate zones, and that’s an example of why the patches of Coronado National Forest are called Sky Islands. Finally, the San Simon Valley and New Mexico are on the other side of these mountains.
You can see a larger version of Dos Cabezas Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we begin searching for summer refuges, but before we load the Jeep, I will return to a previous location as promised earlier this year. Be sure to come back and see what I’m talking about.
Living with my editor-in-chief has been particularly stressful. Her sisters are coming for a visit this week. She waltzed her beloved Dyson through the house while singing to the bluebirds, bunnies, and butterflies. She stressed her red vacuum so much that she broke it and had to order parts from Ireland. I don’t think she’s well—I caught her washing a window. I’ve become the red-headed step-child. I have to eat on the back porch, I can’t use either bathroom, and my office desk is the only place I can sit. When I gave her this post to check, I had to check my hand for missing fingers. I believe that Cyndi thinks that if she passes this inspection, her sisters will let her accompany them to the palace ball. She’s forgotten that she already hooked her Prince Charming thirty-four years ago. I blame it on this sudden Bridgerton obsession.
Other than that, welcome to May. This month, we will feature images that I took as we drove between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument. The satin ribbon that ties the collection together is Cochise County Road 186. Otherwise, it’s a collection of odds and ends that didn’t fit inside the park. Over the next five Sundays, we’ll work our way from the monument and back to town. That way, there’s some logic to my presentation.
Right from the beginning, I’m going to cheat. You can’t see the peak in this week’s picture from the highway, and it’s not inside the park, but you can see it best from there. This image is of the 8087’ high Cochise Head located in the northern section of the Chiricahua Mountains. For perspective, the eroded granite head is a mile wide. The name is descriptive because it resembles Cochise, the great Apache chief, with his distinctive Mayan nose and a pine tree eyelash. Like Camelback Mountain, there’s no one person credited for the name; everybody just agreed on the resemblance. Imagine having a mountain named for you while you were alive. Arizona has 15 counties, with 12 of them having tribal names. Cochise County is the only one named after a tribe member. I think that shows how much respect our community had for Cochise (of the other two counties, our legislature named one for a mountain (Graham) and the other for a prominent mine owner (Greenly).
I tried different compositions when I shot this week’s picture—that I call Cochise Head naturally. The one that I chose is centered, which is unusual for me. The others seemed unbalanced somehow. As you move up and down the road, the eye and forehead become more or less prominent. I took this shot from the closest position that I found—standing on a rocky ledge overlooking Bonita Creek Canyon.
You can see a larger version of Cochise Head on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll make our way back to town for dinner, but there’s a place we have to stop so I can grab another photo. Come back next week and see what I found.
After last week’s rant about the failed hike Fred and I attempted in the Eagletail Wilderness Area, some of you have probably concluded that I’ll never do that again. I understand; I had those feelings too. After all, why attempt a 7-mile hike when a) I don’t enjoy hiking, and b) I’m not good at it? Well, it’s because I love being in the wild, and I find it revitalizes my soul.
I didn’t become a nature-lover from my father. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up in a neighborhood derogatorily called Polack Hill—now Polish Hill. There wasn’t room for nature in the middle of Pittsburgh’s industrial district. I remember seeing the Allegany River between the warehouses from my great-grandmother’s back porch, but no one fished it. The steel mills polluted it so much that the catfish were discolored and had three eyes—like the fish in The Simpsons. Dad didn’t hunt, and the fishing trips he took me on were to fish farms.
It was Ansel Adams that sparked my interest in the natural world. As an impressionable young photographer, I was awed by his works. I wanted to see and shoot all the beautiful places in his pictures. It wasn’t until I moved to Phoenix and joined my brother-in-law on camping trips that ignited my love of the outdoors. He and his friends had the right gear to live well in the wild. That gang taught me that everything tastes better in the dirt. There was something out there that made me feel alive, even if we only swapped Jack Daniels flavored lies in the searing heat of a roaring cowboy fire.
That feeling of adventure is addictive. I need a regular fix. Although I’m happy to roll down my car window and shoot mountains through it, the thrill is more significant when I know that I’m seeing something most people haven’t. Even though Fred and I failed to find the petroglyphs, we filled our memory basket with petrified wood, rose quartz, and signs of wildlife. I’m not sure if or when I’ll go back to the Eagletails. Other places sing the Sirens song for me.
This year is the beginning of my fourth quarter. Although I can’t see it from here, the end of the road is waiting. With every passing year, I better appreciate nature’s importance. That’s why I’ve joked with Queen Anne to place my ashes on Utah’s Powell Peak—but save my eyes. Like that weird little Microsoft Word assistant—Clippy—put them in a formaldehyde-filled jar so I can still look around. I can hardly wait to see the look on some poor camper’s face when they discover me watching them set up their tents.
This week’s picture is of a mountain ridge inside the Eagletail Mountains. I named it The Point for the granite dome at the center. It’s smaller than Courthouse Rock I showed last week. I shot this image after Fred got back from his reconnoitering trip. While I waited, I watched the afternoon shadows grow into a pleasing composition. You can also see the Ben Avery trail that we meant to hike. The flat Jeep trail near the bottom runs from left to right.
You can see a larger version of The Point on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, Queen Anne and I begin a new adventure. I’ll give you a hint; it’s someplace in Arizona that I’ve never visited. Come back then and see what we’ve discovered.
When you were in school, did you learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition—the party that explored the Louisiana Purchase and discovered the first Starbucks in what’s now called Seattle? Sadly, when it comes to the outdoors, my buddy Fred and I will never rise to that level of notoriety. Most likely, we’ll go down in history more akin to Laurel and Hardy.
Don’t get me wrong, Fred is a brilliant man. After all, he is an engineer, and I can write complete sentences, so when apart, we’re able to navigate the world and safely return home (to the amazement of our wives). But when we go out together, our skill sets overlap like in a Venn diagram and set up a thinking interference pattern that causes things to go south.
To finish up this month’s project, the Eagletail Mountains, I needed a couple more photos—ones that are close to the subject. Since it’s a wilderness area, that meant hiking. I spent time researching and found a perfect trail on AllTrails. It’s only 3 1/2 miles each way, and it goes to a place called Indian Springs. There, we should find a spring and a rock wall of petroglyphs. They described the hike as “the easiest trail in the world. It’s an old mine road with little grade change. A baby can do it.”
I began calculating. I walk at 2.2 miles-per-hour (I measured it using my hand-held Garmin), so 2 hours in, snap a couple of shots, 2 hours out, and add four hours drive time down and back. The outing should easily take an afternoon. I asked Fred if he would be interested (somebody needed to carry me out when I fell). He said, “Sure.”
Monday at noon, I tossed on some comfortable jeans, my whitest Tee shirt (so the rescue helicopter could spot me), and a baseball cap. I drove to Fred’s house to pick him up. He opened the front door dressed like an L.L. Bean model, with a freshly pressed ‘cool-shirt,’ safari hat, day pack, and walking sticks. He was gorgeous.
It was a beautiful day, and we spent the two-hour drive talking about the hike and sharing the maps we brought. Fred downloaded the AllTrails map onto his iPhone; I had printed the directions to the trailhead; we were ready.
Mistake #1: The easy part was getting to the Gas-Pipeline road, but we had to count the miles to the turnoff. As Fred read the instructions, I watched the odometer. When the instructions said, “at 1 ½ mile, turn onto an unmarked road,” a road appeared on the left. We turned, but the sign that they promised wasn’t there. We continued anyway and came upon a group of young men camped at its end. This place must be our spot, so we parked.
Mistake #2: The boys/men were friendly and were sitting around packing parachutes. If we were in California, I would have expected them to be waxing surfboards. Thet had come to Courthouse Rock so they could climb the monolith and then jump off with a parachute—even though the rock wasn’t in danger of crashing. They asked why we had come. They said we were on the wrong road when we told them about the trail. They said we needed to go back to the pipeline road and go another mile. Fred and I looked at one another, the maps, and the app. Since the trail was just over the hill, we ignored their directions—like any person holding a man-card should.
Mistake #3: We started hiking cross-country diagonally toward the trail. “Surely it must be over that low ridge, and we’ll see it from the top,” I told Fred. We hiked to the ridgeline and saw——another hill. We began the long trudge to its top. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were climbing Courthouse Rock’s talus slope. The rock must have been significantly larger at one time because sharp granite chips covered the ground. They had flaked off the enormous tower making the footing lose. Falling on them would hurt—a lot.
After an hour of hiking uphills and over gullies, we reached a point where we could see the trail. It was on the other side of a deep wash. That meant we could get to it if we could cross the dry creek, but it was still a half-mile away. We only managed to cover less than a mile during the past hour. I was ready to quit, but I could see yet one more ridge on the horizon. I hoped it was the last. Fred volunteered to continue seeing if it was our summit while I sat, drank water, and caught my breath. He confirmed that it wasn’t, so we started back when he returned.
Instead of retracing our steps, we made our way down into the wash, where we were able to walk the sandy bottom back to the Jeep in half the time. When we reached the camp, we had to explain our failure to the base-jumping dudes. “Yeah, I thought you should drive to the other road,” one of them graciously taunted. Since we were in the area, we did. We found the second road, complete with signs, parking, and an informational kiosk. At least we’ll know should we ever go back, but for now, the two-hour drive home was nearly silent.
I shot this week’s picture that I call Courthouse Rock at the beginning of our hike. It’s of the enormous granite monolith from its west side. The 20-foot palo verde tree gives scale, so I’m glad that the tree photo-bombed my shot.
You can see a larger version of Courthouse Rock on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll finish our Eagletail Mountain visit and move on to another project. Hopefully, somewhere I can drive.
In last week’s article, I mentioned that the Eagletail Wilderness encompassed two desert mountain ranges and the Sonoran Desert basin that lies between them. The Eagletail Range was one, while the other is a chain known as Cemetery Ridge. After I gave you their name, I made an offhand remark about how they got that name. Well, I accepted that question as this week’s homework assignment, boys and girls. Here’s what I found—nothing.
Well, that’s not wholly true because, in my handy Arizona Place Names book, there is this entry:
“This sixteen-mile-long and two-mile-wide, low range was the scene of the killing of several prospectors in the 1870s, according to local stories. Their bodies are said to be buried on the ridge (sic), which is also known as Cemetery Hills.”
When I read that, I thought, “Alright, there’s an interesting historical story to tell my loyal readers.” So I, as the unofficial Marshall Trimble understudy, started a week of research that would have made Jimmy Olson proud. I wanted to find out what miners, who killed them, why, and where are they buried. I asked Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google’s unnamed assistant. None of them knew nothin’.
I did find out that I’m not the only person searching for those answers. Google referred me to the Desert Mountaineer blog. There I found the anonymous author had written a three-part journal covering Cemetery Ridge. The writer is a pretty good storyteller and photographer, but his passion is climbing mountains, and the photographs are incidental, kind of the opposite of what I do.
His three-part saga covers four days of driving the same roads I did, looking for graves. He travels with his dog, sleeps in his truck, and often stops to climb the mountains he passes—sometimes two or three in a day. I’m impressed! Anyway, after exploring the entire length of Cemetery Ridge, he didn’t find our legendary graves. He does mention the place where Deadman Wash crosses Cemetery Ridge on the west side. If ever there were a place to look, that would be where I’d start. It has all the intrigue of a pirate’s treasure map.
I shot this week’s image along the Arlington-Clanton Well Road on the south side of Cemetery Ridge. The Ridge’s mountains (like hills really) appear and disappear in a straight line for 16 miles. At one of those places where they slip below the surface like a giant sea-serpent, I saw Eagletail Peak framed and lit by the sunrise. You can make out the ‘tail feathers’ sticking up at the top in the picture. I want to explain that the Eagletail Wilderness is directly under the Los Angeles-Phoenix flyway, so contrails are part of the natural landscape, but they won’t let me fly my drone there.
You can see a larger version of Eagletail Peak on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we go hunting for more treasure in the Eagletail Range. Come back then and see if we were successful.
I find that there are some places where it is difficult to photograph properly. Most of those are wilderness areas. Because they’re not accessible by road, you have to hike to get to the good stuff; that’s exciting visually. You know by now how I feel about hiking—I’m vehemently against it. However, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable.
The Eagletail Mountains are one of those places. There are plenty of old jeep trails running through the area, but since it was declared a wilderness and set aside in 1990, you can’t drive on them. Instead, you have to hike anywhere within its boundaries.
The last time I visited the Eagletails was in 2003—when I first created my Website. Since I routinely update the site with newer and better photos, I discarded all of those shots a long time ago. With me needing a new project, I decided to revisit the Eagletail Wilderness and try my luck again.
Actually, there are two mountain ranges in the Eagletail Wilderness. Foremost is the Eagletail Range that runs north-south. If it were a hand on a clock, they would be in the 11:00 position. The other range is Cemetery Ridge (hmm, there’s got to be a story behind that name), a line of mountains that run northwest-southeast, or 9:30-10:00. Most of this wilderness fits within this triangle between the two ranges. That’s the justification that Congress used to preserve it. It is a complete example of two mountain ranges separated by a flat Sonoran Desert basin.
This week’s picture is of the western slope of the Eagletails. It’s an aerial shot taken with my drone. Since I can’t fly into a wilderness, it’s as close as I could get from the east side. It shows the jagged ridgeline with Eagletail Peak—the high point—at center-right. If you got closer, you’d see that its top has several granite spires that resemble feathers—so its name is descriptive.
The trouble is that all of the interesting geologic formations and petroglyphs are on the other side. For February, my challenge is to see how far I can walk in and show you what’s there. It’s been several years since I last twisted my ankle, so I’m about due.
You can see a larger version of Eagletail Mountains on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we move south and get a shot, including Cemetery Ridge. I promise to see how it got that name. Come back then and see what we found.
Alright, class, settle down. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen, then put away your backpacks. Today we’re starting with a pop quiz. There is only one question, and you have 15 minutes to answer with 10,000 words—or more. You must cite your sources. Spelling and punctuation will be graded. Are you ready? Your question is, “What do Memphis, Tennessee, and Kingman, Arizona have in common?”
I have talked before about old trading trails morphing into the well-laid-out highway system that we have today. Most of us don’t care how it happened, and we just drive on them. They think that Eisenhower signed a paper in 1956, and the freeways just popped into existence. I think that’s because people younger than me—and that’s pretty much everybody—didn’t experience the change first hand. Our forebearers built most roads over existing paths, and there are reasons someone blazed those original paths. Mark Knopfler describes this phenomenon well in his 1982 song Telegraph Road from the Dire Straits album Love Over Gold.
There have been trading trails across Northern Arizona since the first Pueblo inhabitants. European settlers didn’t use them much because the New Mexico territory was Spanish. Their roads came up from Mexico to towns like Santa Fe and the Old Pueblo at Tucson. Those roads followed the Rio Grande and Santa Cruz Rivers because there was always reliable water. The rest of the desert was a wasteland. What changed that? It was gold.
In 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in California. In less than two years, California became a state—that’s instantaneous in government time. They needed to move goods and people to the Golden State—and get the gold back to Washington. But, there were no east-west roads, so they put Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves in charge of a surveying expedition, and he laid out a railroad route around the 35th Parallel.
Then in 1857, the Fed’s paid Edward (Fitzgerald) Beale to build a wagon road from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to Los Angeles—again along the 35th Parallel (remember, Tucson was still in Mexico). He built his road in a year using camels because they needed less water and food than oxen and horses. By all accounts, it wasn’t much of a road, but Beale bragged that it was the shortest route by 300 miles and “It is the most level: our wagons only double-teaming once in the entire distance, and that at a short hill . . .” His road became the Santa Fe line in 1880, then Route 66 in 1926, and finally Interstate 40 in 1978.
His wagon road wandered a bit from the 35th as it meandered across the desert, but wagon tracks are visible in places on Google Earth. As vehicles became more efficient, each of the subsequent roads shortened its length. Some silly people hike the old road just for giggles. I’m not that ambitious. However, I do know of a place where you’ll be in Ed’s footsteps. Yep, you guessed it. It’s our Union Pass on SR 68. While Sitgreaves went through Oatman, Beale found a more accessible way to Fort Mohave and his river crossing.
I took this week’s picture on the west side of Union Pass, and it shows layers of lava and ash (tuff) that have been turned horizontal by geological forces. As Don Sprinkle commented in another post; “. . . just like the Grand Tetons.” It was sundown as I took this photo, and that’s why the ordinarily dark rock has a beautiful red glow, and that’s why I called it Sunset Wall.
So, back to your quiz; I’m going to let you grade your papers. What did you answer to: What do Memphis, Tennessee, and Kingman have in common? If you said that they are both along Interstate 40, you get 50%, and if you said that they both have a Beale Street, you get another 50%. I must add that there is a difference too. While Kingman knows who they named their street after, according to the Wikipedia entry for Memphis’ Beale Street, nobody remembers who Edward Beale was, which I find amusing. Maybe it’s forgotten because he was a Union Naval officer.
You can see a larger version of Sunset Wall on its Web Page by clicking here. Please come back next when we begin December’s project and new pictures.