Organ Pipes Picture of the Week

Organ Pipes - One of the first features you see after entering the park is the Organ Pipe Formation.
Organ Pipes – One of the first features you see after entering the park is the Organ Pipe Formation.

Two days have passed since April Fool’s day on Friday. That morning, Queen Anne stopped by my office door and announced, “I’m pregnant.” She’s a one-trick pony because she’s recycled that joke every year that we’ve been married, so I ignored her. However, Friday was an important milestone for me, and since I’ve waited two days, you know I’m not pulling your leg. Friday marks the 50th year since I moved to Arizona. I think that officially makes me overqualified to be a native.

With the month’s change, we’re starting a new project. April Fool’s—we’re not leaving Willcox. I’m just going to show you why we actually traveled to Cochise County and what we did with our afternoons. You’ll recall that I spent mornings in Willcox searching for a decent cup of coffee and shooting the town’s historic buildings. After an hour or so—when the light became too harsh—when I returned to our motel and opened the door, Queen Anne sat on the bed corner bejeweled and makeup finished. “I’m ready for breakfast,” she’d say—who am I kidding? That would never happen. The truth is that I could hear her lyrical voice waft from the bathroom, “I’ll be ready in a minute.” In husband-speak, that phrase meant that I had time for a nap.

The actual purpose of our Willcox visit was to photograph the Chiricahua National Monument. After fifty years of living in Arizona, this was my first visit. It’s usually a half-hour drive southeast of Willcox. Still, we dawdled with a camera and stretched the trip to over an hour. The scenery along County Road 186 reminded me of California’s central valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Long butterscotch colored grass filled the broad Sulphur Springs Valley between the Dos Cabezas Mountains (Two Heads in English) on our east to the Dragoons on our west. Arizona ranges don’t tower over its valleys as the Sierra’s do, but at least the air was clear, and we could see all of the mountains.

My After Life - I found out that I can become a rural mail carrier in Cochise County even after I'm dead. That gives me something to do after I'm gone.
My After Life – I learned that I could become a rural mail carrier in Cochise County even after I’m dead. That gives me something to do after I’m gone.

On one of the many photo stops that we made, I was able to chat with the local postal carrier and got some great news. He told me that I don’t have to be useless after my death because I can always get a job delivering mail for eternity. You saw my after-life job delivering mail if you watched Funny Farmthe movie. All I have to do to qualify is pass the Civil Service Exam.

The route coming out of Willcox ends at the Junction of county roads 186 and 181, and you turn east on the latter. You pass from open range into a canyon as you head into the Chiricahuas. Within four miles, there’s a pay station. It’s closed due to the pandemic, so the Rangers collect any fees at the visitor’s center. Immediately on the right is a small family cemetery where the Erickson’s rest under shady oak trees. The Erickson’s are the family that homesteaded here after he retired from the Army at Fort Bowie. They established a ranch along Bonita Creek called Faraway Ranch because it’s far away from anything. Their daughter, Lillian, and her husband, Ed Riggs, welcomed guests to the homestead to promote tourism. They built many of the trails still in use, allowing visitors to wander among the unusual columns of eroded stone.

There’s only a single road in the monument that runs from the entrance, past the visitor’s center, climbs through Bonita Creek Canyon, and winds along the ridge of the park’s eastern boundary. Along its length, there are numerous stops, pull-outs, and parking areas where you can stop and take in the view, like this week’s picture that I call Organ Pipes. However, if you want to immerse yourself in the complete gestalt, you should plan on hiking one of the trails. They range from a half-mile to a couple of miles long. You can also link several trails and make your feet suffer to your heat’s delight.

Chiricahua National Monument only has one small campground, which fills quickly—especially during the season. There are only two towns with hotels, Willcox along Interstate 10 and Douglas at the Mexican border if you’re willing to drive further.

The Organ Pipe Formation captured in this week’s image is one of the first displays after the visitor’s center. The columns rise several hundred feet above Bonita Creek and are mirrored on the other side of the road by similar rocks. There wasn’t a way for me to hike above the trees to get a better shot. This picture does not do justice to their scale.

You can see a larger version of Organ Pipes on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we will hike one of the short trails to look at the park’s natural sculptures. Come back to see what we found.

Until next time — jw

 

Arch and Honeycomb Weathering Picture of the Week

When you were a child and thunder was new to you, did your mother try to console you by explaining that the noise was just God and the angels bowling in heaven? My mom did that. I believed her because she’d never lie to me, and she knew I’d catch her (although I don’t understand why Santa stopped sending me $20 at Christmas when she died). She always told people that I was their peer, although there may be more intelligent children. Well, what her exact words were is, “He sure ain’t the brightest kid in the class.”

Arch and Honeycomb Weathering - inside the cave on the Jenny's Canyon Trail are a natural window and Honeycomb Weathering.
Arch and Honeycomb Weathering -Inside the cave at the end of Jenny’s Canyon Trail are a natural window and Honeycomb Weathering.

This memory comes to mind because I think I’ve captured the scoreboard that the angels used. It’s visible in this week’s picture—the rows of distorted cribbage holes. If one of the bowlers threw a strike, a lightning bolt would cause a tree to burst into flames. Then they’d advance their marker into the next hole. The one that got their rock in the last spot won. It’s that simple.

I did a lot of online research to prove my thesis, but I found nothing. Instead, the experts call this kind of erosion honeycomb weathering. It’s not clearly understood, but it’s an alchemy of rock, salt, rain, freezing, and expansion. You also have to hold your tongue just right while you’re making it. I saw this type of erosion before in Canyonlands National Park when we visited too long ago, so I assume that it’s shared across Southern Utah’s sandstone formations.

This example of honeycomb weathering is in Utah’s Snow Canyon in a place they call Jenny’s Canyon. It’s at the end of a half-mile (round trip) trail near the park’s south entrance, and it was the shortest and the most rewarding of the side trips that we took. The trail leads to a slot canyon in the sandstone, but not the usual slot. Unlike Antelope Canyon near Page—where running water has cut a course into the sandstone—this is one of those stacked dunes (see last week’s picture) with a gap between the layers. Jenny’s Canyon begins as a typical slot, but dead ends in a short cave. I took my shot from inside the cave.

If you think some weird bacteria are growing on the cave walls, let me explain the color. Like wearing a pair of rose-colored glasses, when the sunlight bounces off the red sandstone, it adds that color to the reflected light, and that’s why the back wall seems to glow orange. Other photographers have successfully captured this phenomenon at Bryce Canyon, but I’ve been unlucky so far. “Damn you, Bryce. I’ll get you one day.”

Jenny's Canyon Sky - Because the canyon walls almost touch, the view of the sky is a narrow ribbon in Jenny's Canyon.
Jenny’s Canyon Sky – Because the canyon walls almost touch, the view of the sky is a narrow ribbon in Jenny’s Canyon.

The second image that I included to illustrate my post is the sky from Jenny’s slot canyon. I’ve seen photos like this, and I wanted one of my own. I think the blue against the glowing orange and dark walls look like torn craft paper glued on one another as a collage. I consider it an abstract because it has no story of its own.

You can see a larger version of Arch and Honeycomb Weathering on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see the next trail that we explored. It’s not far up the road.

Until next time — jw

Mud Arch Picture of the Week

Continuing with last week’s adventure to the mud cliffs at Alamo Lake, I took this week’s picture at the other end of the slot canyon. It’s not really a very long hike—maybe fifteen minutes if you don’t dawdle—but I was exploring with a camera and I stopped to take pictures often along the route. The reward waiting for you at the canyon’s head is this mudstone arch carved by rushing water draining from the surrounding mesa. If you hike a few yards beyond the arch, the canyon ends and you’re on the mud flats that lay between Date Creek and the Santa Maria River. The water is runoff from the Black Mountains in the north that has carved the canyon from the flats.

Mud Arch
Mud Arch – At the end of a short hike up the slot canyon is a mud arch as a reward for your effort.

Since I’m not a geologist I can’t tell you how old the arch is, but because the surrounding soil easily erodes and because I slept in a Holiday Inn Express once, my assumption is that it hasn’t been there for very long—geolgically speaking—and it may soon crumble. You’ll notice that the arch’s shape isn’t smooth and rounded like the sandstone arches in Utah which tell me that it hasn’t been polished by blowing wind. That’s another clue to its relatively young age. I won’t be surprised it disappeared in less than a decade.

When I arrived on this scene, the sun was low enough that it didn’t shine onto the canyon walls, but it did add that late afternoon glow to the mound behind it and separated the arch from the background—sort of a spotlight as it were. With streaky clouds in the sky … what more could a photographer ask for?

You can see a larger version of Mud Arch on its Web page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing my newest entry and tag along for the other canyon shots I’m revealing this month.

Until next time — jw

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