Dos Cabezas Mountains Picture of the Week

Dos Cabezas Mountains - The 'two head' mountain range is a prominent landmark in southeast Arizona.
Dos Cabezas Mountains – The ‘two head’ mountain range is a prominent landmark in southeast Arizona.

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.

Till Next Time
jw

Adobe Ruin Picture of the Week

Adobe Ruins - In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are severely decayed.
Adobe Ruins – In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are in a severe state of decay.

Roughly midway between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument, the county highway’s speed limit drops to 45 mph. At first, there’s no clue about the slowdown until a small sign announces that you’re entering the town of Dos Cabezas. Only three of its dozen or so buildings are worthy of occupancy. The rest are in various states of decay. It’s only a city block long, and you soon return to an empty country road, where you can reset the cruise control.

After driving through Dos Cabezas three times, I insisted on stopping on our fourth pass. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for historic buildings, whether they’re restored or about to be blown down by the wind. I’m glad that I did, and this week’s featured shot is one of several that I captured during that afternoon.

As with most Arizona ghost towns, Dos Cabezas’s history is a flash of glory followed by a long decay period. The town is located at the southeastern reach of the mountain range, which shares the same name. When word came out that prospectors discovered gold and silver on the mountain, miners swooped in like hungry vultures to feed on a carcass. The Feds opened a Post Office in 1878, which served a population of 300 that eventually swelled to over 4000. They found little gold in the Elma mine, but there were some copper deposits. Investment capital dried up when investors discovered that the mine was a scam and part of stock fraud. People left to find work elsewhere. As the town dwindled, the Post Office finally closed its branch in 1960. I guess that you could count today’s Dos Cabezas citizens on one of your hands.

In this picture that I call Adobe Ruin, you see the remains of a large building constructed using adobe bricks and stucco. The town once had a hotel, and these sections may be all that’s left of it. Adobe was a common building material throughout the old southwest because it was simple to make. All you need is to combine mud and straw and let it dry in the sun. The thick bricks provide plenty of protection from the desert heat and cold winters, but they quickly erode once water enters them.

I took several variations of the building, but I favored this one because I liked the mud stains streaking down the wall, and I liked the wall’s placement before the background’s two-headed mountain. The desert willow and hackberry show how soon nature reclaims her own. Ashes to ashes, as it were.

You can see a larger version of Adobe Ruin on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk down the street to look at another of the Dos Cabezas ruins. Come back then and have a look.

Till Next Time
jw

Cochise Ranch Airfield Picture of the Week

Cochise Ranch Airfield - It's common for ranchers in remote Arizona communities to build private airfields.
Cochise Ranch Airfield – It’s common for ranchers in remote Arizona communities to build private airfields.

As a kid, one of the Saturday morning cowboy shows I watched was Sky King. The pitch for the show probably went something like this: An Arizona rancher has a spread so large that he has to use an airplane to manage it. Because our rancher (let’s call him Sky King) has this fantastic resource, the local sheriff calls on him to help find lost hikers, bank robbers, missing children, and commie spies. It’s pretty unbelievable—right? But that’s how it went. Sky King was not my favorite cowboy because he didn’t have a pretty horse. After all, how could you chase bandits and shoot at them if you weren’t riding a horse?

I don’t know about chasing bank robbers, but large ranches with private airfields are common in Arizona. I didn’t realize how pervasive they were until I studied to get a drone license and learned how to read aeronautical charts. There are several private fields near where we live.

I can think of several reasons you could justify a private field if you lived in a remote place like Cochise County. Flying into town for supplies would be helpful, but you’d need a fair-sized plane to bring home packs of Costco paper towels and toilet paper. We have trouble getting those items in our Jeep. Emergency medical visits are second on my list off the top of my head. The rancher files to a hospital, or Air Evac comes out to the spread.

The Sky King Memory block fell into my recollection dispenser when we drove by this windsock and hanger on our commute between Willcox and Chiricahua National Monument. That’s why I stopped and took this shot. I call this week’s picture Cochise Ranch Airfield, and it shows a weathered water tank, orange sock, and corrugated hanger before a clear blue sky. As you look at it, you can hear the announcer’s golden voice saying, “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King!” Now that we’re all older and more cynical, don’t you wonder why Penny—a pretty young blond pilot and accomplished air racer—lived alone out in the desert with her flashy old uncle?

You can see a larger version of Cochise Ranch Airfield on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll stop in a ghost town and look at some of its ruins, so I’m sure that you’ll want to see that.

Till Next Time
jw

Cochise Head Picture of the Week

Cochise Head - The 8087' high peak in the Chiricahua Mountains that resembles the great Apache Chief, Cochise.
Cochise Head – The 8087′ high peak in the Chiricahua Mountains resembles the great Apache Chief, Cochise.

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.

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

Stoned Bunny Picture of the Week

Stoned Bunny - I admit that it's a stretch to see this rock as a rabbit, but Camelback Mountain's Praying Monk is obscure too.
Stoned Bunny – I admit that it’s a stretch to see this rock as a rabbit, but Camelback Mountain’s Praying Monk is obscure.

I love the park service’s pamphlets at the entrance gates. I collect them. In addition to a map, they show all the things to see and do inside the park. When I opened the one for Chiricahua National Monument and looked at all the trails, I thought it looked like a drunken pirate’s treasure map. There are trails on the straight and narrow; trials that go in circles, ones that climb mountains, while others descend into canyons.

Visitors don’t need to hike any of the trails. There are several parking areas where they can take in spectacular vistas. Heck, you don’t even need to get out of the car. However, if you want a genuine Chiricahua experience, you should venture out and walk among the formations. In the World of Rocks, features are hiding from the parking area. Even after all of my recent bellyaching about hiking, I found a short enough trail for me. It’s called the Grotto Trail, and it was pretty level and less than a mile round trip. I completed my tramp in less than 90 minutes, including my photography stops. Over the balance of this month, I will show you the trail’s highlights.

Do you remember several months ago when I wrote how the pixies build trail markers out of stacked rocks—called cairns? Well, there are no cairns in this monument. Using rock stacks to find your way through a park full of stacked rocks is useless. Cairns would be camouflaged. Instead, the WPA installed signposts at junctions and points along the way. How novel.

I found the balanced rock featured in this week’s post not far from the trailhead, so I shot it twice, once on the way out and again on my return. Calling the image Balanced Rock seemed dull because there are so many beside the trails. Then I’d have a series of photos named: balanced rock 1, balanced rock 2, etc. So, as I processed them, I tried to imagine what they resembled. If I close my left eye and stare at this image, it looks like a rabbit with his ears up and the face of Mr. Magoo. If I close my right eye, the image resembles a poorly crafted Easter Island statue.

Trying to decide, I stared at my computer and alternating eyelids when Queen Anne walked into the room, slapped me upside the head, and yelled, “Stop doing that. You’ll put your eye out, kid.” I was on the rabbit at the time, so that’s how it got its name—plus, I ate Stoned Rabbit at a fancy Italian restaurant once; it tasted like chicken.

You can see a larger version of Stoned Bunny on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week I’ll show you another shot that I took on the way to the Grotto. Be sure to come back and take part in the fun.

Till Next Time

jw

 

 

Schwertner House Picture of the Week

Schwertner House - Built as an overnight barracks for Army officers during the Apache Wars, the Schwertner family bought and lived in the house until 1980.
Schwertner House – Built as an overnight barracks for Army officers during the Apache Wars, the Schwertner family bought and lived in the house until 1980.

In 1880, when Southern Pacific established a whistle-stop in Willcox, there was peace everywhere in the country except in Cochise County. Here the Army was busy battling Cochise and Geronimo in the Chiricahuas. Stupid decisions made by Army officers prolonged the Apache Wars, but that’s another day’s story.

The U.S. Army operated from several forts in the southeast corner of the Arizona Territory, and the newly built railroad was an efficient way to get officers into Arizona. So, the Army immediately paid to have a boarding house built within walking distance of the Willcox train station. The green officers had a place to stay until troops escorted them to Fort Bowie, Fort Grant, or Fort Thomas.

After hostilities ended, Joseph Schwertner bought the barracks for his family’s home. Joe was a well-off Schley saloon owner, one of several that lined Railroad Avenue at the turn of the century. After Joe died in 1929, his heirs continued to live in the house until 1980, when they gifted it to the local historical society. Today, the pretty little yellow house with green shutters is one of several buildings in Willcox on the National Registry list and is open for tours.

In this week’s picture, I shot the historic home at dawn just after I got my first cup of coffee and my eyes finally opened. I called the shot Schwertner House—its proper name. In addition to the lovely morning light on its yellow front and new metal roof, I like the picket fence (I’m a sucker for picket fences because they’re rare in Arizona). The dark green shutters should be next on the TLC list.

What if you’re not into history and old buildings? What else is in Willcox that makes it worth a visit? A mile or so east of the railroad crossing is the town’s golf course. It’s not fancy, and it will never be on the PGA tour, but that’s not important to most golfers. I’ve never been good at stick-and-ball sports, so I’m not keen on golf. However, on the road and just past the course is something that I do find exciting.

Willcox Playa Sandhills - Sandhill Cranes stop at the Wilcox Playa on their way to Canada.
Willcox Playa Sandhills – Sandhill Cranes, stop at the Wilcox Playa to rest and feed on their way to Canada.

We started our Willcox story a couple of weeks ago by explaining why Southern Pacific picked this spot for a stop. The railroad located the town along the northeast part of the Willcox Playa. Usually a dry lakebed, there is enough seasonal water to fill the low spots. Because these shallow pools are dependable year after year, migrating waterfowl stop for food and rest.

The most notable flock of birds is the Sandhill Cranes. The large stilt-legged gray birds are in the ponds late winter until the weather warms enough to continue to Canada. The playa is the best place to watch the red-faced birds this side of New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache preserve.

Since the access road encircles the ponds, you can watch the cranes from your car. In freezing mornings, the birds cluster in tight groups, communicating with trills, clucking, and squawks. Before they take to the air, their cacophony gets louder and the pace quicker. Then a half dozen take a couple of steps and flap their long broad wings rising gracefully above the pond. In winter, the air in Sulfur Springs Valley has temperature inversions, so the birds fly up to where the air is warmer and soar over town. The locals proudly call the phenomena Wings over Willcox, or WOW.

You can see a larger version of Schwertner House on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I have a final shot of historical Willcox, so come back and see what we’ve dug up.

Until next time — jw

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