Birding: Paint Box Colors on the Arizona Trail

We were looking for a short hike while staying a few days at Pine Grove Campground near Lake Mary (which is near Flagstaff, AZ). So we checked out our maps and discovered that there was a trail head for the Arizona Trail on a nearby forest road. The surprise for the day was that it was a fabulous area for birding.

The open meadows edged with pine and dotted with juniper and sage were muted earth tones, but they were splashed with flying primary colors right out of an artist’s paintbox.

There were Western Bluebirds…

Western Bluebird Out on a Limb

Western Bluebird Out on a Limb

and amazingly intense Male Mountain Bluebirds…

Male Mountain Bluebird Perched on a Branch

Male Mountain Bluebird Perched on a Branch

Brilliant Male Mountain Bluebird

Brilliant Male Mountain Bluebird

and slightly more subtle females.

Female Mountain Bluebird Eating a Fat Caterpillar

Female Mountain Bluebird Eating a Fat Caterpillar

There were brilliant Western Meadowlarks both high…

Western Meadowlark Singing at the Top of a Pine

Western Meadowlark Singing at the Top of a Pine

and low…

Western Meadowlark Foraging in the Grass

Western Meadowlark Foraging in the Grass

Western Meadowlark in the Grass

Western Meadowlark in the Grass

All in good numbers, and all in a relatively short span of only a few miles.

There were, of course, many of the more conservatively clad avian representatives, striving to keep a lower profile.

Lark Sparrow Just Blending In

Lark Sparrow Just Blending In

It’s always fun to stumble upon a little birding hotspot when you least expect it. Kind of lifts your spirits if you know what I mean.

Thank you little dinosaurs!

 

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Scaled Quail Video – Rockhound State Park

Friends and family have already seen this little video we made while at Rockhound State Park in Deming New Mexico, but we wanted to post it here as well for the bird lovers on wordpress.

Rockhound is a gimme for quail. Both Gambels’ and Scaled Quail run around like little chickens in the barnyard. It is one of the things that brings us back to this park again and again. We just never get tired of watching them, along with an abundance of other birds who call the park their home. Enjoy. And get yourself over to Rockhound if you want to see quail!

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The Blue Hole of Santa Rosa New Mexico

So here we are in Santa Rosa New Mexico at the Santa Rosa Lake State Park. In all honesty, not one of our favorite New Mexico State Parks, but we needed to get closer to Aburquerque so Ric could get labs and medications at the VA Hospital located there – we used it on our last BIG trip in 2011, so those VA folks had access to all of Ric’s data. Anyway – Santa Rosa is OK, but that’s it – we canoed the lake in 2011 and there was no real challenge there, and we hike pretty much daily, and there are only 3.5 miles or so of trails in the park so it lacks challenge in that regard. We wanted to give it a fair shot, so, lacking a clear memory of our last visit, we decided to explore “town”. In the process we saw a couple of really interesting things – the first, surprisingly was a Brewery! We did an illegal “U” turn and went back for a closer look.

Angry Wife Brewery Sign

Angry Wife Brewery Sign

Unfortunately, after taking the above picture, Ric walked over to the building and looked more closely. The dogs at the house next door barked-more challenging then welcoming-but the place was locked and appeared to be inactive.

“Oh well” – back to exploring – the next sign we saw that intrigued us we just had to follow to its conclusion:

Blue Hole "This Way" sign

Blue Hole “This Way” sign

Having survived the billboard broadside for “The Thing” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_%28roadside_attraction%29) on our way west, we had no idea of what to expect, but being the best part of gullible, we bit.

As it turned out, the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa is a circular, bell shaped pool, that is one of the most popular dive destinations in the US for SCUBA diving and SCUBA training! This Blue Hole is an artesian well that used to be a fish hatchery. It is a clear blue body of water with a constant temperature of 64 °F (18 °C) according to Wikipedia – though the local sign
states that the temperature is 61 degrees, with a constant water inflow of an incredible 3000 gallons per minute! While the surface is only 80 feet (24 m) in diameter, it expands to a diameter of 130 feet (40 m) at the bottom – hence the “bell” shape.

Blue Hole on site sign.

Blue Hole on site sign.

Since this pool is located along Route 66 and Interstate 40 which pass through the Sandia Mountains on the way to
Albuquerque, NM, divers must use high-altitude dive tables to compute their dive analysis and decompression stops when
diving in the Blue Hole.

Entrance to the Blue Hole

Entrance to the Blue Hole

A local diving permit is necessary to use the pool and can be purchased from the city of Santa Rosa for $8 which allows
one-week of diving.

Blue Hole "Rules"

Blue Hole “Rules”

Followers of our blog know that our daughter, at the age of 3 coined a description for her old man that has stuck for decades – with hands on hips and brow in serious frown mode, she called Ric an “ignor-anus” so many thanks to Wikipedia and its contributors for the definition of a “Blue Hole”! A Blue Hole is a underwater cave (inland) or sinkhole, also known as vertical caves. There are many different blue holes located around the world, typically in low-lying coastal regions. Some better known examples of blue holes can be found in Belize, the Bahamas, Guam, Australia (in the Great Barrier Reef), and Egypt (in the Red Sea).

Surface view of Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

Surface view of Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

In general, blue holes are roughly circular, vertical depressions, and are named for the dramatic contrast between the
dark blue, deep waters of their depths and the lighter blue of the shallows around them. Often their water circulation is
poor,(unlike the Santa Rosa example, with its 3000 gallon per minute flow) and they are commonly anoxic below a certain
depth; this environment is unfavorable for most sea life, but nonetheless can support large numbers of bacteria.
The deep blue color is caused by the high transparency of water and bright white carbonate sand. Blue light is the strongest
part of the spectrum; other parts of the spectrum—red, yellow, and finally green—are absorbed during their path through
water, but blue light returns upon reflection.

Linda is tall enough but lacks the motivation to do any "Blue Holing"

Linda is tall enough but lacks the motivation to do any “Blue Holing”

The deepest blue hole in the world-at 392 meters (1,286 ft) is Pozzo del Merro in Italy. The deepest blue hole in the
world with underwater entrance—at 202 metres (663 ft)—is Dean’s Blue Hole, located in a bay west of Clarence Town on
Long Island, Bahamas. Other blue holes are about half that depth at around 100–120 metres (330–390 ft) which makes the Santa Rosa Blue Hole one of the “shallower” examples in the world at its “paltry” 81 foot depth. The diameter of the top entrance for Blue Holes ranges typically from 25–35 metres (82–115 ft) (Dean’s Blue Hole) to 300 metres (980 ft) (Great Blue Hole in Belize).

Diver sign at Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

Diver sign at Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

Blue holes formed during past ice ages, when sea level was as much as 100–120 metres (330–390 ft) lower than at present.
At those times, these formations were targets of the same erosion from rain and chemical weathering common in all
limestone-rich terrains; this ended once they were submerged at the end of the ice age.

Santa Rosa Blue Hole diving entry.

Santa Rosa Blue Hole diving entry.

 

In the past, many different fossils have been discovered that indicate the type of life forms that have existed in
various blue holes. These fossils have indicated different types of flora and fauna life forms that have existed in there
before. For example, one may find fossils of crocodiles and tortoises in a blue hole.

Diver specific sign at Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

Diver specific sign at Santa Rosa Blue Hole.

This spot obviously attracts a lot of folks in the heat of the summer, however, unless you dive deep, you probably can never really appreciate the real attraction of this spot, and others like it around the world.

Once again – thank you to Wikipedia and its contributors for the correct information regarding these unique natural
formations.

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Birding and RVing and Citizen Science

Over the years we have met some very avid birders in our RV travels, and while we enjoy watching birds and trying to figure out who’s who among the birds we encounter, we never really made a concerted effort to master the art and science of birding.

Curve-billed Thrasher Perching on Yucca

Curve-billed Thrasher Perching on Yucca

Recently while visiting some friends who are excellent birders (talking to you – Shorty and Hazie!) we decided that the movie The Big Year would make a nice birthday gift for Hazie. So we tracked it down. We had also wanted to watch it ourselves – so it was one of those “everybody wins” kinds of gifts. “The Big Year” stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, a stellar lineup. The supporting cast includes three of our favorite actresses, Angelica Huston, Rashida Jones and Diane Wiest – quite a cast! (The last we heard, our friends had watched the movie three times!)

The movie was based on a book called The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, and it follows three men on their pursuit of a Big Year, a competition to see who can identify the most species of birds in a given year. We are in the process of reading it right now and it is a very entertaining book. (Can’t wait to finish this blog post to get back to it!)

Anyway- back to us. The movie made an impression. Not that we could ever aspire to such lofty heights as a BIG YEAR, but as we are traveling the country we are exposed to many more species than usual. Couldn’t we become better birders with some level of concerted effort?

We weren’t sure. It seemed like birding required a photographic memory or some alien level of recall that neither of us could muster:
–> Birding seemed to require a good memory for connecting bird names to birds. We do not have good memories.
–> Birding seemed to require observing fine details and being able to bring a similar species to mind to contrast and compare details. Again “meh” on the memory.
–> Birding seemed to require that you could remember and differentiate among bird calls and songs. Again – the memory challenge seems to be the issue here. We’re getting low on memory, and battery too, for that matter.

Enter the internet.

Lin had been tooling around various internet resources, trying to ID a rather gregarious robin-sized bird, and a rather dramatically marked sparrow-like bird that could sing up a storm here at our campsite at Oliver Lee State Park. She came upon two very important websites and an App that can run on smartphones.

The first site was AllAboutBirds.org, a Cornell University (School of Ornithology) site that had remarkably easy and effective search features for identifying birds. It made figuring out these birds, (which turned out to be a Canyon Towhee and a Black-throated Sparrow), seem like child’s play.

While exploring this site there were, of course, some interesting “Google Ads” to be seen in the sidebar.
One of them was the Sibley Birds of North America.  Hmmm. An app. Maybe this would help in field identification too.

The Sibley eGuide App

The Sibley eGuide App

$19.95 later, Linda was trying out the app in our campsite. She decided that although it was the MOST money she had ever spent on an app, it was also worth every penny, and it worked amazingly well on her aging Android. When Ric returned from town a little while later, she demonstrated the app by “calling in” the black-throated sparrow:

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow (singing)

The little guy proceeded to serenade us from a nearby perch, allowing us to photograph him.

While the song-playing feature is a useful tool, there is a lot of discussion in the birding world about the use of such “disturbing” techniques in the field. Sibley has an excellent post about this on his blog that fairly presents the pros and cons of the technique. We could see that it had an immediate effect, and I plan to use the feature from time to time, but also understand that moderation is best. I think one way a birder can use the technique is to employ headphones in order to play the birdsongs in juxtaposition with what he or she is hearing in the field. The novice can learn – but nobody else (other birders or the birds themselves) would be disturbed.

It is hard to understate the quality of the illustrations by David Allen Sibley.  He has a skill for creating illustrations that show off the important defining characteristics of the birds. The illustrations are far better than photographs, which often don’t portray color well – or miss an important feature due to the position and the momentary posture of the bird. The Aha! moment came when we realized that this tool could become our “portable” field memory and help us overcome our personal memory shortcomings so that we could become more proficient birders.

So Ric downloaded the app on his phone too.

Later in the day Lin found another website (also by Cornell Lab of Ornithology) that is a citizen science project for birders. The website is eBird.org, and you can learn how to take your birding observations and do them in such a way as to contribute valuable data for scientific research. eBird is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence, reporting millions of bird observations each month! Their help pages guide you through the process of how to conduct observations and submit them to the eBird database.

That was the icing on the cake – we love doing “Citizen Science” projects.

So there you have it. We are officially “birding”now. We think we’ll get better at observing with consistent practice and mutual support in our efforts. But more importantly, we are sure that this is one more little thing that will enrich our lives and keep our brains from ossifying any more quickly than necessary.

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Dog Canyon Hike at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

Here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park there are two established trails, one is a 0.5 mile walk along the Dog Canyon Arroyo. It is a nice easy nature walk along a riparian zone near the Visitor’s Center. The other hike is a 5-1/2 mile (11 mile round trip) ball buster of a hike up Dog Canyon. It was a case of hiking feast or famine.

Dog Canyon sign 2

Dog Canyon is a National Recreation Trail. It starts at Oliver Lee State Park and then quickly passes into the Lincoln National Forest, ascending an escarpment into the Sacramento Mountains and terminating at Joplin Ridge and Forest Road 90B. Every sign or piece of literature describing the hike used words such as “strenuous”, “challenging”, “for serious hikers”, “knee-killer” etc. You get the idea. It has an elevation gain of about 3,100 feet and reaches an elevation of 7,782 feet.  It is a FULL day of hiking along a steep and rocky trail, and it took us about 9 hours (including a half hour break for lunch and a few other shorter rest breaks).

Dog Canyon Map 1

We dipped our toe in the trail the day after we arrived at Oliver Lee, hiking to the two mile marker, and returning for a total hike of 4 miles.

dog canyon mile 2It was a hot day by our Yankee (or Red Sox) benchmarks, with temperatures in the low 80’s and strong winds. We would wait to do the full  hike a few days later, when the temperatures would be in the low 70’s and the winds calmer. It gave us a taste of what was to come, and since the trail rises abruptly and relentlessly for the first half mile, it also gave us great views of the campground, the Tularosa Basin and White Sands in the distance. The windy day was lofting massive amounts of the fine white sand into the air, making  it look like smoke in the distance.

Oliver Lee campground from Dog Canyon trail near begin

Oliver Lee campground from Dog Canyon trail near beginning

We stopped in the Visitor’s Center and learned that there is much history associated with the trail. It was a haven for prehistoric peoples and later, Apaches, and was the scene of several historic battles between the Apaches and the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1800s. Placing themselves at the top of a massive cliff (the “Eyebrow”), the Apaches rained down rocks and boulders and bullets upon the pursuing cavalry soldiers, and more often than not, drove them back.

Depiction of Calvary Apache battle in Dog Canyon.

Depiction of Calvary Apache battle in Dog Canyon.

It was also the site of a ranch and land owned by Francois “Frenchy” Jean Rochas, a colorful character of the area in the 1800’s. Frenchy constructed cabins and an extensive network of rock walls, many of which still remain as a testament to his industry.

Frenchy Rock Wall Remains in Dog Canyon

Frenchy Rock Wall Remains in Dog Canyon

The day of our hike (April 9th-Ric’s late Mom’s Birthday) was the cooler, calmer day that we had hoped for and we set out early (by our standards), getting onto the trail about 9 am. We kept a steady, slow pace up the steep inclines knowing that we had a long day ahead.

 

Ascending toward the "Benches" on Dog Canyon Trail

Ascending toward the “Benches” on Dog Canyon Trail

The trail is not completely relentlessly uphill. There are two flat, meadowy areas known as the “benches”. The first bench is reached  a bit after a half mile of steady, steep ascent and is a welcome relief.  Black-throated sparrows serenaded us as we walked across blessedly flat land, and there were an abundance of wildflowers and blooming yuccas to treat the eye.

 First Bench Dog Canyon TrailFirst Bench Dog Canyon Trail

 From there the trail goes went up and down a series of large ledges, then more uphill again to the second of these two grassy meadows (about 2-1/2 miles along the trail). This is a truly lovely and peaceful little “Eden” peppered with huge boulders and lush green trees.

2nd Bench Eden: Lush Green Trees

2nd Bench Eden: Lush Green Trees

At the end of the bench the trail rapidly descends to the site of  “the Line Cabin” (just shy of 3 miles on the trail). The ruins of this cabin lie near a stately old juniper and a spring which feeds the Dog Canyon Creek. We took our lunch break there and enjoyed watching the black-chinned hummingbirds and the numerous butterflies that thrived in the riparian environment of the spring.

Spring Near the Line Cabin

Spring Near the Line Cabin

Remains of Line Cabin around 3rd mile up.

Remains of Line Cabin around 3rd mile up.

The next section of trail ascended to the”Eyebrow” (a massive cliff) and one of the benchmarks of the trail. It was one of the steepest, rockiest, narrowest and most dangerous – due to precipitous drops adjacent to very narrow sections of the trail, and being continuously uphill without a break.

Nice wide part of eyebrow trail!

Nice wide part of eyebrow trail!

View of the 2nd Bench from the "Eyebrow"

View of the 2nd Bench from the “Eyebrow”

In spite of the ascent, the fossil strewn landscape provided  a bit of a diversion from our aching feet and acrophobia.

Fossil example along trail on approach to brow.

Fossil example along trail on approach to brow.

We were also rewarded for our efforts with absolutely spectacular views of the Canyon and the Tularosa Basin beyond. All around us we could hear the descending trills of Canyon wrens.

View from Dog Canyon to the Tularosa Basin and White Sands

View from Dog Canyon to the Tularosa Basin and White Sands

Telephoto of Oliver Lee from well up Dog Canyon Trail.

Telephoto of Oliver Lee from well up Dog Canyon Trail – near top of the eyebrow.

Past the “Eyebrow” the trail continued to gain elevation up the steep and rocky terrain to mile 4.5, at which point we came to small descent into a relatively flat meadow for a short distance. Aside from being alert for rattling snakes in the grass it was a nice break from climbing.

Dog Canyon flat at 5 mi plus

Dog Canyon flat at 5 mi plus

Finally the trail took us up another steep (but short) ledge with switchbacks to the top of Joplin ridge. Near the end of the trail there was an area of charred trees from a past burn… something we are becoming accustomed to seeing here in the west.

 

Burned area at top of Dog Canyon Trail

Burned area at top of Dog Canyon Trail

 

When we say “near the end of the trail” we actually mean half-way. What goes up must come down. We knew we couldn’t linger long, so after a trail terminus pic or two we were on our way again, ready for the punishing downhill… returning as we came. Views all the way.

Linda - only 5.5 Miles to go!

Linda says “Only 5.5 Miles to go!”

Downhill Along the Eyebrow

Downhill Along the Eyebrow

We arrived home about 6 pm, after a long day at the “office”.

Leaving Lincoln Forest sign Dog Canyon

Leaving Lincoln Forest sign Dog Canyon

All in all we fared well. No serious complaints except for extremely sore feet. Rocky trails take such a toll that way – and 9 hours is a simply a long time to beat your feet. Our knees held up remarkably well, and we probably have our trekking poles to thank for that. A day of rest and we’ll be ready to go -just not 11 rocky miles for a little while!

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Three Day Gila National Forest Backpack Hike

Not long ago we hiked out on Dragonfly Trail near Silver City. We had driven by the sign for the trailhead repeatedly on our way to Silver City, and wanted to check it out. It turned out to be a pleasant “foothills” type of trail to a petroglyph area, with prominent Dragonfly motifs:

Dragonfly Petroglyph on the Dragonfly Trail

Dragonfly Petroglyph on the Dragonfly Trail

The Twin Sisters Creek flows through the area, and it was flowing well when we were there, with pools of water among the rocks… It was easy to see why this important location would have been well marked. It would have been an important resource.

Twin Sisters Creek

Twin Sisters Creek

Twin Sisters Creek pool

Twin Sisters Creek Pool

While in the vicinity we headed over to the local National Forest Service Office and picked up additional maps and literature about hiking in this area. We found out that there was another trail system contiguous with the Dragonfly Trail System, the Fort Bayard Trail System. That trail system links with the Continental Divide Trail northeast of Silver City, so if you want to you can hike a long, long way.

Fort Bayard Trail System Map

Fort Bayard Trail System Map

 Given a three-day gap in reservations at City of Rocks and Rock Hound, we elected to fill it with a three-day backpacking camping and hiking adventure in this area of the Gila National Forest.  We figured we would hike about 20 miles round trip over the three days.

The weather looked good and we had been wanting to do a “shake out the mothballs” kind of trek with all the camping gear for quite awhile, and since it was possible to park the RV at the Dragonfly Trail Head (for up to 14 days – we only wanted 3), it shaped up as a very convenient way to do an extended hike. So we spent our last few days at City of Rocks going through our gear and packing our backpacks, and then hiking the park’s Hydra Trail “fully loaded” to see what a mere 3.8 miles under those conditions would feel like. It felt heavier than we remembered.

Ric on the Hydra Trail at City of Rocks - Testing the Pack

Ric on the Hydra Trail at City of Rocks – Testing the Pack

Lin with Her Pack on the Hydra Trail Pack Testing Hike at City of Rocks

Lin with Her Pack on the Hydra Trail Pack Testing Hike at City of Rocks

We are not novice hikers. We day-hike all the time wherever we go… often eight to ten miles or more in a day, or we sometimes throw all the gear in the canoe and float it for multi-day camping and capsizing adventures. But our last serious backpack hike was the Long Trail “through-hike” in 1999… a 280-mile month-long continuous hike in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Long Trail '99

Long Trail ’99

1999. We are a tad older now.

This whole situation is an offshoot of our last trip to Alaska. As we were winding up our trip and heading out of Alaska we went through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The Wrangell Mountains

The Wrangell Mountains (well, some of them at least). View from the Wrangell-St.Elias National Park Visitors Center.

We had run out of summer on that particular visit, but we vowed that if we could return to Alaska we would venture beyond the Visitors Center of Wrangell-St. Elias. As we reminisce on this 2011 Alaska trip, the highlight by far was our canoe trip down the Forty-Mile and Yukon Rivers to Eagle. This further re-enforced our belief that interfacing with Alaska with “boots on the ground” approach is what we want.

Hiking here in the desert has a different set of challenges. Not much rain and only occasional black  bears, but there is the ever-present challenge of water. Drinking water and finding water. Hiking in the dry desert air sure does make you thirsty. Mother Nature’s little joke is that you are very thirsty and there is practically no water to be found…you have to carry it. Water is heavy which makes you work harder and makes you get thirsty faster. Ha Ha. Jokes on you. We were able to pump sufficient water, plus locate a  park crew work center – so we managed – but this certainly didn’t qualify as the wildest part of the high desert!

 

Desert "bear bag"

Desert “bear bag”

Hiking in Alaska – there is plenty of water, mostly falling down from the sky- so you’d best be prepared with full rain gear and a good tent fly. Can’t forget the Bear Resistant Food Cannister and the bear spray and the bug nets. Also crampons if you are going onto the glaciers. We figure there is a trade-off in the weight of water vs. rain, bug, glacier, and bear safety items.

Sow Griz and cub in Denali

Hiking in Alaska presents a Different Set of Challenges

So back to now. We have to get ourselves and our gear tuned up for the challenges of the numerous multi-day hikes and canoe trips that we have planned. There is no better way than to get out there and do it. So we did.

Setting Off on a 3-Day Gila Backpacking Hike

Setting Off on a 3-Day Gila Backpacking Hike – Heading for the Mountains Yonder

We got on the trails about 11:30 am – after having left City of Rocks and parking the RV at the Dragonfly trailhead.  Ric had a 37 lb. pack and Lin had a 25 lb.pack. Each of us us carried about 6 lbs. of weight in water…enough to get us through a day comfortably. We knew that Twin Sisters Creek and Cameron Creek had water, but were unsure if any of the other streams on the map would have water. (Maps don’t help here as much as a firm local knowledge of the seasonal nature of the water sources. The maps may show many streams – but most are dry, and even marked springs are mostly underground.)

By lunch time we were becoming well aware of some serious limitations of our maps. First  off – the maps were black and white and the trails crossed one another in places. It was hard to tell how each of the trails continued in some cases. Also – many trail crossings lacked markers or the markers were vandalized to the point where they were useless. We ended up having to hike an extra mile on our first day due to “missing” a trail that lacked a marker.

We logged close to 6 miles and decided to end the day early, mostly due to the fact that we knew we were rusty setting  up a campsite and wanted to allow extra time. We found a great site well off the trail and under the shelter of an old juniper, and on a ridge that overlooked the Santa Rita Mine from across a wide valley. There were abundant (mostly dried) cowpies and anthills nearby, but the only problem at our immediate campsite were a few pesky wasps. We pitched camp, enjoyed the quiet surroundings, made supper, and then hit the sleeping bags about dusk.

1st Camp - Off Sawmill Wagon Road

1st Camp – Off Sawmill Wagon Road

We were up next morning before 7 am and on the trail again by 9 am. The immediate goal was to locate and pump water, which we were able to do near “The Big Tree”

Linda at Big Tree in Gila

Linda at Big Tree in Gila

 

The Crown of the "Big Tree"

The Crown of the “Big Tree”

The Big Tree is an ancient juniper that was impossible to frame in its entirety in one shot. A beautiful and sacred tree. It is also a popular hiking destination – an easy 2 miles from the trail head – so there is heavy use. Some degree of long term vandalism of the nearby signs and jelly beans littering the ground attested to that fact. Cameron Creek ran alongside and that is where we pumped water. Not too much flow – but we found a sandy bottomed pool that worked fine.

Vandalism to Sign Along the Sawmill Wagon Road

Vandalism to Sign Along the Sawmill Wagon Road and Big Tree Trail Crossing

From there we continued on the Big Tree Trail which was very pleasant with lots of shade. Our next trail, Wood Haul Wagon Road, was less shaded, and with the sun beating down we felt the distance, especially after lunch break, when we started to ascend the ridges leading to Signal Peak. The footing was rocky and tiring.

Uphill Ascent on Signal Mountain

Uphill Ascent on Signal Mountain

 

Gila Hike Wildlife - glad he's little!

Gila Hike Wildlife – glad he’s little!

Alaska might have some pretty scary wildlife, but there be Dragons in the Gila forest!

When we had ascended to a plateau that promised good level tent site options we called  it a day and pitched camp. We were also concerned that the forecast had a 20-percent chance for thunderstorms – so we made camp mid afternoon again. We had logged 5.2 miles, and certainly could have hiked farther – but just did not want to pass up a good campsite.

View from the 2nd Camp- Silver City in the Distance

View from the 2nd Camp- Silver City in the Distance

The site was less sheltered than the first night, but on the other hand it offered a sweeping view from Santa Rita Mine, clear across to Silver City and the Burro Mountains and to Tyrone Mine in the southwest. Above us were steep rocky outcrops, but the immediate area was level and grassy, dotted with stunted junipers. There were rain showers or perhaps “Verga” in the distance – but it never did rain. There were some pesky flies (ticklers, not biters like their Maine cousins) but no other insect problems.

Ric Resting on Pack at Camp No. 2 on Signal Mtn.

Ric Resting on Pack at Camp No. 2 on Signal Mtn.

Once we got our camp set up we lazed around using our packs as backrests and spent some time later just admiring the view from a good “sitting log” that Ric found. Again, we hit the sleeping bags about dusk. Neither of us carried a book – mostly because we didn’t want to carry the extra weight. Besides we were tired and looking forward to sleep.

Day three started around 7 am, we broke camp and were on the trail by 10 am, and heading back the way we came – down Woodhaul Wagon Road Trail. One of the features of this trail is the “Wagon Wheel Ruts” which are near to the trail crossings of Woodhaul Wagon Road and Stevens Ranch Trail…

"Wagon Wheel Ruts" in rock on Wood Haul Trail

“Wagon Wheel Ruts” in rock on Wood Haul Wagon road

 

From there we took the Stevens Ranch Trail to the Forest Service Administration Site  and the Big Tree Trailhead. Again – our immediate goal was to find a source of water, and Ric asked the workers at the site if there was water available. Not only did we get “re-filled” but they gave us 2 Gatorades to help us on our way. We do not usually drink Gataorade, but our bodies were thirsty and probably low on electrolytes – so it tasted pretty damn good!

We continued on Forest Service Nursery Road Trail with the intent of getting back to the Twin Sisters Creek area for our last overnight, but we went awry at the Servis Corral, staying straight went we should have gone right. That was problem number one. Problem number two was the weather. There was nothing in the forecast about thunderstorms, but we began seeing sure signs of thunderstorm development. We even stopped and re-checked weather via the phone. No mention of T-storms. Hmmmm. Within an hour there were lightning strikes and dark-bottomed clouds.

Darkening Skies Over the Santa Rita Mine

Darkening Skies Over the Santa Rita Mine

By this time we were within two miles of our RV so we decided that we would just hike fast and try to make it before the storms. With the promise of a cold beer in front of us, and a thunderstorm on our butts we hiked fast and made it without any issues.
This third day logged in at 11 miles. We were weary to be sure, but its good to know that we can do the distance (even fully loaded with gear) when we have to.

Safe at Home at the Dragonfly Trailhead

Safe at Home at the Dragonfly Trailhead – Looking Out Our Window

As a hiker that is the most important thing…having the ability to get yourself out of trouble. You can make the best of plans and have the best of gear, but trouble with occasionally hunt you down and find you.

The RV bed felt so good that night! We feel that one good reason to do a backpack hike on a routine basis is just so that we appreciate the comforts that we have… so we don’t take them for granted. The other good reason is to keep our outdoor skills as sharp as they can be, and to refine and improve our gear.

Gila hike technology - charging the cell phone.

Gila hike technology – charging the cell phone.

One of the ways we could keep good track of our distance was a GPS app on Ric’s phone and a new addition to keep it charged through the trip was the Opteka BP-SC6000 Ultra High Capacity (6000mAh) Backup Battery Solar Charger with Faster Charging EcoPanel We have used this on multiple trips all year and it has performed admirably to keep our cell phones charged while hiking.

More on the gear upgrades in a future post. Suffice it to say we will be improving some of our gear to reduce pack weight in the very near future.

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Filed under Rock Art Adventures, Southwest, Uncategorized

Chiricahua National Monument Hikes

Again, we are woefully behind with reporting on our hikes and explorations…but life sort of got in the way with the purchase of our new RV. But in the interest of at least keeping up with the HIGHLIGHTS of our journey we must include our hikes in the Chiricahua National Monument… so we are rewinding to a few weeks ago for this post!

Ric and Lin along the Heart of Rocks Trail at Chiricahua National Monument

Ric and Lin along the Heart of Rocks Trail at Chiricahua National Monument

The Chiricahua National Monument is in eastern Arizona – very near to the border of New Mexico and close to the town of Wilcox. We decided it would be a good place to explore on the way back to Silver City from our visit with friends, Shorty and Hazie, in Sunsites, AZ. We could only spend three days at Chiricahua because our offer for the new RV was in play and we had to get back to Silver City to seal the deal.

A Mosaic of Hoodoos Seen from Massai Point

A Mosaic of Hoodoos Seen from Massai Point

A Landscape of Hoodoos

A Landscape of Hoodoos

Chiricahua means “Land of the Standing Up Rocks” in Apache and it is a wondrous fantasyland of immense and towering rock formations. The rock was spawned by the Turkey Creek volcanic eruptions (27 million years ago), which laid down massive volumes of thick ash and pumice, to create a rhyolite rock formation 2000 feet thick. To put this in perspective, that is one-thousand times larger than the Mt. Saint Helens eruption of 1980. The ash trapped bubbles of gas which became distorted as the ash cooled and fused, and can be seen as these white inclusions (called “Fiammes”) in the rock today:

Fiammes at Chiricahua

Fiammes at Chiricahua… Fingerprints of Volcanic Origin

But is was the steady force of nature over the succeeding eons … blasting the rock with wind, carving the rock with water, and fracturing the rock with icy freeze-thaw cycles that produced the amazing formations that exist here today. Nature is AWE-some…powerful and patient.

Mushroom Rock at Chiricahua

Mushroom Rock at Chiricahua

We stayed at the Bonita Campground, and did two hikes while we were there. The first hike was from Massai Point (we took a hiker’s shuttle to Massai Point itself).  We took a few minutes to explore the exhibit building and then the “Lookout” which had an old and beautifully designed mechanical “Viewfinder”…

Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

A Close Look at The Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

A Close Look at The Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

We descended from this peak down a series of trails that took us through ridges and canyons as the massive formations towered over us. Shortly after entering the trailhead we saw this touching memorial that someone had placed in a tree along the trail. The little bell was inscribed “RIP” with initals on it…

Memorial Bell along the Trail near Massai Point

Memorial Bell along the Trail near Massai Point

That first thing, that was hard to ignore, was that the forest fires of 2011 had made serious incursions into this area. Almost immediately after starting the hike we descended into a canyon littered with burned trees. At once it seemed tragic, and yet as we walked we heard the constant drumming of woodpeckers backed up by a chirping, twittering, warbling chorus. We watched as the birds worked from tree to tree, gathering the insects that had taken residence in the burned, decaying trees. Nature finds a way, and some niche critter benefits from the worst of circumstances. It gives a hopeful feeling.

Hiking Through a Burned Area at Chiricahua

Hiking Through a Burned Area at Chiricahua

Ric Hikes Through a Charred Landscape

Ric Hikes Through a Charred Landscape at Chiricahua

Woodpecker at Chiricahua

Woodpecker at Chiricahua

Flicker at Chiricahua National Monument

Flicker at Chiricahua National Monument

Pecked Holes in Charred Tree

Pecked Holes in Charred Tree

Feathered Friend along Trail at Chiricahua

Feathered Friend along Trail at Chiricahua

(Sorry about those blurry pics – one of these days we’ll get better at photographing busy birds… we’re working on it!)

The Civilian Conservation Corps played a big role in building this great system of trails… and it leaves one wondering, why couldn’t we revive this idea? On many of our travels we have encountered the works left by this “New Deal” Program of the 30s.

Massive Rock Wall along Trail at Chiricahua

Massive Rock Wall along Trail at Chiricahua

So often these projects are on a massive scale – the Civilian Conservation Corps left an amazing legacy across our nation. In this place the workers in the CCC gave names to many of the rock formations, especially along the “Heart of Rocks Trail” here are a few of our favorite formations in this area, and a few other of the many impressive “named” formations along the trails:

Big Balanced Rock Stats Sign

Big Balanced Rock Stats Sign

The "Big Balanced Rock" Formation at Chiricahua

The “Big Balanced Rock” Formation at Chiricahua

The "Pinnacle Balanced Rock" Formation at Chiricahua National Monument

The “Pinnacle Balanced Rock” Formation at Chiricahua National Monument

Lin Beneath "Camel Head"

Lin Beneath “Camel Head”

 

As is usually the case, some of the best and brightest moments when hiking are the little wonders… like seeing the streak of bird poop which gives away a prime nesting site…

Prime nesting site on formation along Rhyolite Trail

Prime Nesting Site on Formation along Rhyolite Trail

Or seeing a lichen formation that looked like a petroglygh…

Lichens as Petroglyph

Lichens as Petroglyph

Throughout the descent we were surrounded by the passage of time, and in touch with our own miniscule moment on this planet. Chiricahua reminds you every step of the way that the forces of nature work these wonders over a long… a very, very long time.

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Filed under Geology on the Rocks, Southwest, Uncategorized