Walnut Creek Bend Picture of the Week

Walnut Creek Bend - It's perplexing to understand how a normally dry creek could carve a deep gorge into the surrounding limestone.
Walnut Creek Bend – It’s perplexing how a usually dry creek could carve a deep gorge into the surrounding limestone.

We had to break from the heat last month, so we drug the trailer up to Flagstaff. We didn’t escape the humidity, though. Since it’s the height of the monsoon season, the weather in the high country was the same as at home—only 30°cooler. There’s been a lot of news earlier this summer about the Flagstaff fires, so we found an RV park on the west side of town—right where Old Route 66 merges with Interstate 40. When we got there, the seasonal rains had already quenched the burn. U.S. 89, which both fires crossed, had reopened, but Sunset Crater National Monument is still closed. It suffered extensive damage to the campgrounds and buildings (otherwise, the cinder cone and Bonita Lava Flow were unharmed).

Our trip served a couple of purposes. First, I needed topics to get this publication through the balance of the hot summer months. Second, we wanted to take Ritz (our trailer) on a shakedown cruise to see how well it and the Jeep played together. Finally, we longed to sleep under the covers with open windows in air, not contaminated with that old-person smell—we accomplished all of that. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it felt to enjoy a glass of wine outside and listen to the sound of rain on the awning. Besides, there’s no more fabulous evening entertainment than watching a newbie learn how to do their first black-tank dump (go back and watch the 2006 movie RV again).

This month’s project is one of the excursions we made to a place that neither Queen Anne nor I have ever been to—Walnut Canyon National Monument. I’m not sure why we missed it. It’s only a couple of miles south of I-40 on Flagstaff’s east side. As you drive the road south, it transitions from Ponderosa Pine to Juniper, so the elevation is lower than the town. The monument is primarily known for the Sinagua cliff dwellings—which I’ll discuss in the upcoming weeks, but it’s the creek we’re interested in today.

On the Colorado Plateau, water generally flows to the Colorado River. In Flagstaff, however, someone put our state’s tallest mountain in the way, so water has to drain around the San Francisco Peaks. A couple of miles west of town, you cross the Flag Divide, where streams flow west of the mountains. East of the divide is the Rio Flag and Walnut Creek Drainage system. Here the streams flow east of the volcanoes into the Little Colorado River. Walnut Creek drains Mormon Lake, Upper Lake Mary, and Lower Lake Mary. You can count Arizona’s natural lakes with one hand, and this little creek drains three of them. Perhaps that explains how an ordinarily dry creek could carve a deep channel into the limestone. Of course, all of that happened before our 22-year drought. Today, Mormon Lake is a broad, shallow dry lake with a mud puddle marking its deep spot, and both Mary Lakes are similarly low.

In this week’s picture, we’re standing at a spot that overlooks a horseshoe bend in the creek. I took this photo from the north side of the canyon facing south. In the distance is Mormon Mountain, some 16 miles south. The lake is located on the left flank of the mountain. When the creek is wet, water flows from right to left and empties into Rio Flag several miles downstream. Then the river turns north and flows under I-40 until it reaches the Little Colorado River, about a mile east of the Grand Falls (sometimes called Chocolate Falls).

I hope you enjoy discovering Walnut Canyon and seeing this week’s image. You can view the Web version of Walnut Creek Bend on its page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll hike one of the trails and poke around some ruins displayed in the national monument. I hope you’ll join us.

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Ajo Mountain Foothills Picture of the Week

In my post a couple of weeks ago, I tossed out the fact that Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established in 1937—Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed it on April 13th, to be exact. In the subsequent weeks, we’ve explored the east side loop, which shows off the beautiful and rugged Sonoran Desert. So we accept that the monument is worth traveling a half-hour south of Ajo to visit—in fact, 22 million people did that last year—but in 1937, who knew?

If you look at a 1935 Arizona road map, you’ll notice that there isn’t anything south of Ajo except for the Papago Indian Reservation (They now call themselves Tohono O’odham, which means “Desert People” in their language—Papago is a derogatory derivative of a Spanish word for “Bean Eaters”). The only settlers in the Monument area were the Grays—a ranching family who bought up several local homesteads. So, how did word get back to the president about this unique area?

I came across one story that I liked, and I hope it’s true. In the Wikipedia listing for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I found a line that says, “Land for the Monument was donated by the Arizona state legislature to the federal government during Prohibition knowing that the north-south road would be improved and make contraband alcohol easier to import from Mexico.” Of course, the very next words are “Citation needed.” It sounds too good to be true, but it also sounds like something the Arizona Legislature would do. A fact that makes me skeptical is that Prohibition was repealed in 1933, four years before Roosevelt’s proclamation. If the story is true, the smuggler’s highway has become the main thorofare to the Arizona Riviera—Puerto Peñasco—or as we Zonies call it, Rocky Point.

Ajo Foothills - Organ Pipe and Saguaro grow on a hillside below rugged cliffs in the Ajo Mountain Range.
Ajo Foothills – Organ Pipe and Saguaro grow on a hillside below rugged cliffs in the Ajo Mountain Range.

This week’s featured image was taken on the Ajo Mountain Loop’s downside as the road descends into a valley among the foothills. The shadows were getting long when I took the shot, and you can see Organ Pipe and Saguaro growing on the hillside below the rugged cliffs of Rhyolite and Tuff. I call this image Ajo Foothills.

I really enjoyed my afternoon at the monument. I want to return and drive the western loop. I want to take the Ritz and spend a night under the stars. Maybe we can do that next year when we’re able to move about the country again freely. Besides, there are other beautiful places in Arizona that we can show you in the coming months.

You can see a larger version of Ajo Foothills on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when we begin another adventure traveling Arizona’s back roads.

Until next time — jw

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