The Grotto Picture of the Week

Grotto Interior - From the outside, the Grotto looks like a secluded place to hide from the world.
Grotto Interior – The Grotto looks like a secluded place to hide.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hiking and photographing the Grotto Trail in the Chiricahua National Monument. I know that seems like a long time for a one-mile trail, but I’m old and quickly fall. As you’ve seen in previous photos, massive rock formations that sometimes resemble sculptures line the track. That’s another reason the hike takes me so long—I can’t pass up these shots.

As I walked through the towering erosion formations, I wondered how the grotto would look. By definition, they’re a ‘picturesque cave,’ so I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I shouldn’t have worried because, as that old proverb goes, “You’ll know it when you see it.” That’s precisely what happened. When I first peeked through a side window, I shouted, “Eureka, I’ve found it.”

It’s a cool room with light filtering in from outside. Four pillars line the room and hold up a slab of stone that fell on top. If you aren’t my size, you can crawl up inside and take a nap or play tea-time should you happen to bring your Barbie set. Because it’s open to the sky, you wouldn’t be able to take shelter from a storm like you’d be able to do in an actual cave.

Grotto From the Trail - When I looked back at the Grotto from the trail, I could see how it was assembled.
Grotto From the Trail – I could see how it is assembled when I looked back at the Grotto from the trail.

After catching my breath for a minute, I started back to the parking area. I was only a few steps down the road when I turned around and shot this second image. It gives you a better idea of how the Grotto is assembled, and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to be a secret room—just an interesting pile of rocks. You can see a larger version of The Grotto on its Web Page by clicking here.

Since today is the last Sunday of the month, this is the end of April’s Chiricahua project. I took many more pictures, but I couldn’t show you all of them in only four weeks. If only there were another way for you to see them. Oh wait, there is.

Wrote a book about it—wanna see it?—here it is.

Chiricahua National Monument – My new photo essay of our trip to Cochise County will be available on Amazon, but you get a free preview because you’re a subscriber.

 

I’ve been working on a book while talking with you to prove that I can walk and chew gum. It’s the second in my sampler photo essay series. This one is called Chiricahua National Monument, and it includes the photos I’ve shown this month, plus a couple dozen more. Chapters in the book cover the Faraway Ranch, the hiking trails, and the landscapes surrounding the park.

It isn’t listed yet, but like my last book—Snow Canyon—it will be sold exclusively on Amazon at a ridiculous price of $68.00—unless you want to order a half-dozen or more, I can get a discount for you. Otherwise, no one will pay that price. But because you’re loyal readers, I devised a way for you to read the book and see my other photos—for free. I ordered a PDF version that you can open and download using this link: Chiricahua National Monument. PDF. You’re welcome to download it, print it, and toss it in the garbage when you’re done. I hope you enjoy it.

Next week is a new month, and we’re not entirely done with Cochise County. I found some pretty things to show you outside of the park, so come back next week when we begin May’s project.

Till Next Time

jw

Tulip Rock Picture of the Week

Tulip Rock - A formation that I passed on the Grotto Trail that looks like a tulip to me.
Tulip Rock – A formation I passed on the Grotto Trail that looks like a tulip to me.

One of my loyal readers commented that she couldn’t see the rock creatures like me. If you’re like her, that’s ok. Maybe your mind isn’t wound up like mine, or you’re not on the same prescriptions. Whatever the difference is, I’m simply trying to show you the world as I see it.

This week, I have another Rorschach test for you. It’s a picture of a second remarkable formation I found while hiking the Grotto Trail. I call it Tulip Rock because I think it looks like a flower. It could be a rosebud, a daisy, or a dew-covered morning poppy. Don’t see it? As long as you don’t see the Prince of Darkness who’s come to cast humanity into eternal damnation, you’re alright. If that were the case, I’d suggest you consider a change of meds.

When I composed this image, I wanted to show a couple of things. The first is that most of the hoodoos in Chiricahua don’t look like sculptures; they’re ordinary. That uniqueness makes the formations like this and last week even more special. I found two examples (there are more) on my short hike on the Grotto Trail. Imagine the images I’d have if I had visited the Chiricahuas as a younger man.

The other thing that I wanted to show is the background. The higher peaks of this range are along the horizon, including the 9700-foot Chiricahua Peak. As you can see in this image taken in late March, they are still snow-covered. They’re part of the Coronado National Forest—sometimes called the Sky Islands. The forest isn’t contiguous—it includes several southeastern ranges separated by broad basins. I’m not aware of another forest like it in the United States. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

You can see a larger version of Tulip Rock on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when we finally make it to the Grotto—a four-pillar room with a rock roof.

Jeff Goggin

It’s painful to type these words. Jeff Goggin—the other half of the Ballast Brothers Racing Team—died Thursday a week ago (7 April 2022). He was the last surviving family member and lived alone in the family’s Scottsdale home. Jeff’s mother lost a long degenerative battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s still untreatable. Several years ago, he told me that he was starting to show the same symptoms. Being the insanely practical man we knew, he ended his life to spare himself further suffering while he could still make his own decisions. Jeff is survived by his estranged partner, Paula Hoff.

Jeff was a brilliant, caring, funny man who loved good music, sick jokes, fast cars, fine art, a good scotch, and pretty women. Queen Anne and I miss the jerk.

Till Next Time

jw

Courthouse Rock Picture of the Week

Courthouse Rock - The huge granite monolith that attracts climbers and base-jumpers to the Eagletail Wilderness Area.
Courthouse Rock – The massive granite monolith attracts climbers and base-jumpers to the Eagletail Wilderness Area.

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.

Fred and Jim's overlapping skill sets - When we get together, things don't always go as we plan.
Fred and Jim’s overlapping skill sets – Things don’t always go as we plan when we get together.

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.

Fred the trailblazer - Fred hikes to another ridge to see if it's the last of our hike. It wasn't.
Fred the trailblazer – Fred hikes to another ridge to see if it’s the last of our hike. It wasn’t.

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.

Until next time — jw

Eagletail Peak  Picture of the Week

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.

Cemetery Ridge - A 16 mile-long chain of mountains that make up the southwest flank of the Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area.
Cemetery Ridge – This is a 16 mile-long chain of mountains that make up the southwest flank of the Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area.

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.

Framed between two of the Cemetery Ridge Mountains, Eagletail Peak's feathers lit by the sunrise.
Framed between two of the Cemetery Ridge Mountains, Eagletail Peak’s feathers lit by the sunrise.

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.

Until next time — jw

Eagletail Mountains Picture of the Week

 

Eagletail Mountains - The Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area is an hour west of Phoenix, and south of Interstate 10. Since you have to hike to see the good stuff, it's challenging for me to photograph properly.
Eagletail Mountains – The Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area is west of Phoenix and south of Interstate 10. Since you have to hike to see the good stuff, it’s challenging to photograph correctly.

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.

Until next time — jw

Lava Grass  Picture of the Week

Christmas, along with the rest of the solstice holidays, is almost over. I hope that Santa brought you something better than the lump of coal I got. Queen Anne is on the couch in her bathrobe and tiara with a box of Kleenex. She’ll be useless until Amazon Prime stops showing Christmas movies. Since we won’t be back before then, we’d like to wish you the best New Year in 2022. Things have got to turn around eventually, so let’s give it a go one more time.

Today, I will finish up the year, and our visit to Snow Canyon State Park by talking about the other rock found there—basalt from recent lava flows. If wind, water, and ice sculpt sandstone, the cooled magma is geology’s Etch-a-Sketch reset button. The black rock covers the softer sandstone and forces water to change course. The runoff carves different canyons, like in the park.

As you explore the park’s north side, you’ll see basalt-covered cliffs. They used to be the canyon floor, but 27,000 years ago, the lava forced the drainage west and carved a new floor—now a couple of hundred feet lower. Snow Canyon has a couple of trails that wander through the jagged black rocks; the Lava Tube and the Cinder Cone trails. The latter is interesting because you can hike to the cone’s rim and look into the extinct caldera. However, the track is uphill, and on the east side of State Route 18, so we skipped it.

Lava Tube - When the magma skin cools and then ruptures, the flowing magma escapes leaving behind a cave.
Lava Tube – When the magma skin cools and then ruptures, the flowing magma escapes leaving behind a cave.

The Lava Tube Trail is shorter,  level, and leads to two lava tubes—which are places where the hardened surface fractures releasing the still molten magma inside to flow away. The remaining caves are sometimes big enough that you can crawl into and see where the bats and spiders live—I’ll pass. The above photo is the smaller tube, and visitors— braver than I—crawl into it.

Lava Grass - A small tuft of grass ekes out a living in barren basalt.
Lava Grass – A small tuft of grass ekes a living in barren basalt.

I find basalt a challenging subject to photograph. It’s like taking a picture of a black cat in a coal mine. To get any detail, you need to over-expose, which washes out the rich depth. Fortunately, and is the case with this week’s picture that I call Lava Grass, there’s enough green lichen growing on the rock to prevent the shadows from completely blocking up.

I feel lucky to have spotted the tuft of dried grass surviving in the barren rock. I concentrated hard on staying upright as I hiked the trail in the early morning. The jagged basalt is not skin-friendly and will likely draw blood if you fall on it. And—silly me—I left my bicycle helmet at home.

You can see a larger version of Lava Grass on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we start a new year, with a new project in a new location. Be sure to come back and see where the road takes us.

Until next time — jw

Cup Holders Picture of the Week

I’m going to pause our Snow Canyon State Park tour for a couple of paragraphs so that we can run over to the coast. Don’t worry; we won’t have to put up with any of those weird Californians. Where we’re going, they don’t exist yet. We’re not traveling far—maybe a foot or two. However, we are breaking every law in physics to travel back in time one-hundred eighty million years ago—to the Jurassic era. You can turn around now and take in the Sundance Sea, right here in southern Utah (how old is Robert Redford anyway). Don’t go in the water. There are big things in there that will eat you like you’re a gummy bear.

Turn back this way and look down the shoreline. Massive dunes—hundreds of feet high—go on for hundreds of miles. Until now, it’s been hot and dry here along the Equator, but the climate is changing. It’s becoming muggier and swamp-like. The oceans are rising, and soon (in geological time), the water will cover the sand and pile more sediment on top. The pressure on the dunes will bind them into stone—never to be seen again.

Things would have stayed that way except our stupid captain rammed the North American plate into the Pacific Plate, and there goes the neighborhood. The crash spun us around, raised the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and all the other little wrinkles in between. The resulting damage cracked the mantle so bad that volcanoes could form and eventually raise the Colorado Plateau. Then the Californians move in—can it get any worse?

The crash shoved our peaceful little seaside village up a hillside. We no longer live in a basin where sediments collect. Now our water flows to a place far away. It peels back layers of rock—like an onion when it does. After erosion uncovers parts of the great dunes, we’ll see them again here in St. George, Zion, and north of Escalante. Now they’re as hard as a rock.

Dune Walkers - About the only way you can stay on the Petrified Dune Trail is to go on a guided hike, like these people.
Dune Walkers – About the only way you can stay on the Petrified Dune Trail is to go on a guided hike, like these eight people.

Ok, you can snap out of it now and come back to reality, where we’re standing on the Petrified Dunes Trail. Because it’s all rock, the only clue you have to follow is the path worn smooth from countless boots. It’s easy to leave it, but that’s fine because you’re not going to damage anything. The rock grips like—well—sandpaper, which makes it easy to scramble up and down the slopes. As you wander across the uniformly fractured rock, you begin to examine the exceptions.

Cup Holders - Freezing water bores into the sand stone and will over time reduce the rock to sand grains.
Cup Holders – Freezing water bores into the sandstone and reducing the rock to sand grains over time.

That’s how I found this week’s picture. The round wells in the picture are places where water collected and had a chance to freeze. As the ice expanded, it fractured the sandstone and chipped it. These spots get deeper; they’ll hold more water and bore into the stone faster. Eventually, they’ll be so deep that they’ll split the block until it reverts to sand grains again. I think the shapes of the cups are cool, but I really like the rich and varied colors in the stone. When you get a close look like this, sandstone has a lot of depth and texture.

You can see a larger version of Cup Holders on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when I’ll tell you about the times the stupid captain left the kettle on too long and spilled hot lava all over the park.

Until next time — jw

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