Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

A Touch of Imagination

The traveler scrambled down the banks of Siphon Canyon. It wasn’t much of a canyon, really, more like a gully. It was the end of the dry season, but the creek still meandered between its banks. The traveler headed into that gully for a reason: it was far cooler in the shade of the ash, willow & mesquite trees fed by the perpetual, life-giving waters of the spring at the head of the creek.

It was that famed spring the traveler sought. Once he reached that spot, he would head east towards his destination. But a shadow in the trees moved in the wrong direction. There was something up ahead, blocking the path. Small eyes stared past a broad snout, straight at the traveler. The two, the wild boar who belonged, and the unarmed man who did not, locked gazes. One would react with instinct, the other needed to react with thought or risk being gored. This far from civilization, that would not be a good outcome.


It was dry up on the knoll, far to the east of the creek and spring. That’s where they built these forts back in the day: the inevitable filth from dusty soldiers couldn’t pollute the only reliable water supply. Despite the dry, hot air, there seemed to be a mist, a spectral haze, hovering over the ruins. The entire place was eerie. The air was still, not a leaf was blowing. There was no sound beyond the traveler’s own breathing. No squirrels were shuffling leaves in the woods, no birds were twittering in the trees. Even the ground was heavy, the traveler barely kicked up any dust as he wandered through the ruins.

The ruins themselves were downright ghostly. The remnants of adobe walls, white and rounded from decades of wind and monsoons, dotted the area like mournful apparitions. Nothing of substance grew on the pathways. Life, it seemed, wanted nothing to do with this place. This was a place of evil, a staging area for mayhem, conflict, abuse, and genocide. This was a place used by one people for the subjugation of another, used by the powerful to forcibly take the land and lifestyle from another. Now, the very place murmurs out a mournful “why?”, but of course, there’s no one to listen. No one but a lone traveler who briefly bows his head and continues on to his next destination.


I’m a firm believer in imagination, and in my view, there’s no better place to exercise one’s imagination than in the varied sites of the National Park System. Let’s face it, some of the sites are pretty lame: a four-room loft in a Philadelphia townhouse, an old steel foundry in a sleepy Massachusetts suburb, a forgotten fort in an unspectacular chunk of Arizona. A little imagination goes a long way in such places.

One can imagine the past and try to reconstruct how people lived and thought in days gone by. One can imagine the future by applying old lessons to today’s situations. Fort Bowie’s remoteness and appearance encourages imagination, perhaps the plot for some third-rate fantasy novel or Peter Jackson film project. Because of this, Fort Bowie is one of my favorite National Historic Sites.

Imagination is good. Exercise it from time to time. And take a trip out to remote Fort Bowie.

[Sadly, I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Fort Bowie. Pics are public domain from the University of Arizona and a neat site I stumbled upon: Fort Wiki.]



Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Fort Wiki

The Capture of Geronimo

Google map to Fort Bowie

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A Welcome Respite

Sure, there’s some historical significance to the Coronado National Memorial. Famed Spanish explorer & would-be conqueror, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, entered the present-day United States nearby in 1540. But the great thing about Coronado is its role as an oasis.

Now before I go any further, let me say that I really liked Arizona. It was my first big state tour west of the Mississippi, and I really loved that trip. There’s an awful lot to see and do, it’s really a beautiful state. But it is freakin’ hot.

Bob Thompson MountainComing from the cool Northeast, I had a really hard time adjusting to the blast furnace of southern Arizona (see my post on Chiricahua). Saguaro is a desert, Organ Pipe is the hottest spot in America, and Tucson and Phoenix are scorching blacktop heat islands. But Coronado was great. It’s situated on the northern side of the Sierra Madre, meaning it doesn’t get the full blast of the sun. The ground is also moister than the rest of the state, probably because of the mountains and the geological implications of the water table. The place is quite cool and surprisingly lush. A stop at Coronado is a welcome respite for those circling through Arizona’s national park sites.

The park’s HQ has some antique chain mail on display, the rainfall has created a wet cave up the slope (reminiscent of Gollum’s lair in The Hobbit), and there are some enjoyable, windy roads through the nearby mountains (I advise a sunset drive, really beautiful views abound). Just don’t pick up any hitchhikers….

I know, it doesn’t sound particularly exciting. But it is a nice change of pace.

[I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Coronado. Pic courtesy of the National Park Service.]


Coronado National Memorial

Coronado’s Exploration into the American Southwest

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway

Google map of Coronado

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Barky Faces Death

I have traveled all over the country. I’ve hiked in forests and mountains and brush and swamps and beaches. I almost always hike alone, therefore I have to be very well prepared. I plan my trips carefully, carry the right gear, dress for the weather (current and potential), and stick to the trails. I’ve seen too many idiots hiking in flip-flops, and read too many stories of people getting lost in blizzards. There are many ways I may end up leaving this world, but dying in the wilderness due to unpreparedness, that’s not for me.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.net

At least, that’s what I used to think.

My trip to Arizona was the first time I took two consecutive weeks’ vacation and visited multiple park sites on a grand tour. I was excited, of course. Arizona would be great. It has the most NPS sites of any state in the country and, best of all, it has deserts! One of the great joys in touring this country is walking terrains one normally doesn’t see. New England is known for rolling hills, deciduous forests, urban jungles, and snow. There are no deserts in New England, and there probably won’t be any in our lifetimes, unless we initiate a global apocalypse or something. My trip to Arizona would be the first time I’ve ever walked in a desert.

After weeks of planning, I landed in Tucson, checked into the hotel, and hit the sack. First on the list for the AM: Chiricahua National Monument, home of fantastic rocky spires, eons worth of erosional glory. I had plenty of water, salty snacks, light clothing, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, good shoes, and a dogged determination that I would walk at an uncharacteristically gentle pace, fully in line with the challenges of the environment. I hit the Echo Canyon loop trail (only 3.1 miles long, much shorter than my normal day hikes, again being cognizant of the heat) with great excitement.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.netAfter less than a mile on the trail (the downhill leg no doubt), I thought I’d die.

Something was seriously wrong. I was drinking enough water. I was pacing myself. I was just exhausted! I had never felt so bad walking on a trail in my life. I had to stop every 100′ and catch a breather. Nearly every step was a chore. I finally hit a point of near-panic when the thought hit my head: beautiful scenery be damned, I was going to die on this very trail. Here, thousands of miles from home, far away from family and friends, a stranger in a strange land, I was going to die. At least the next hiker would find me, perhaps my sunburnt corpse would be saved from the buzzards.

It was at that very moment that I heard the sound, a sound that I’ve only heard on television and in the movies …

Some time ago, I heard this theory: “There are two ways to hear a rattlesnake. If you hear it and see the tail, you have a story to tell your friends. If you hear it and see the head, no one will ever hear your story.”

As you have undoubtedly guessed, I spotted the tail. It was about a foot from my left shoe, darting into some low shrubbery.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.netI think most people would have panicked. For some odd reason, I found this comforting. If my time was up, it would have been the head of that rattlesnake, not the tail, and I would be dead. I was not going to die that day, I was convinced of that. All that was left was getting my head back into the game and focus my attention on getting out of the bad situation.

Slowly I continued my way up the trail. Fortunately, the way back up was shady. It was still trouble going but, eventually, I plodded my way back to the rental car and headed to the hotel. A foot-long Subway sub and a gallon of water later, I hit the sack and slept 13 hours straight. I felt great the next morning, and headed to Fort Bowie, Saguaro, and all of the rest of the parks in Arizona without incident over the next two weeks.

It wasn’t until much, much later that it came to me. I live in Connecticut, mean altitude a whopping 500′ above sea level. Altitude at the entrance of the Echo Canyon Trail? 6,780 feet! Oof, no wonder I almost collapsed & died amidst the rocky spires of Chiricahua!

Nowadays, when I travel to high-altitude areas, I always take at least a full day to acclimate before taking to the trails. Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to apply that hard-taught lesson.

(c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.net

[I travelled to Arizona before I bought a digital camera. These pics are courtesy of, and used with permission of, Roger Hall at photography.inkart.net. He has nice photos of other NPS sites, I may ask him to use more in the future. But don’t just check out his photos, he does some really cool pen-and-ink scientific illustrations. Check them out at www.inkart.net. I hope he doesn’t begrudge me posting his western diamondback rattlesnake … I’ve actually ordered a copy for my den.](c) 2007 Roger Hall www.inkart.net



Chiricahua National Monument

Roger Hall Scientific Illustrations & Wildlife Art

Backcountry Advice from Retired Park Rangers

Google map to Chiricahua National Monument

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Valiant Efforts in Preservation? Or Goofy Self-Serving Construct?

Casa Grande Ruins -- public domain photo from www.ohranger.comWhen I was a boy, I remember seeing pictures of the Casa Grande Ruins in my school textbooks. It would be in the American pre-history section, the “time before the Pilgrims” when the native tribes ran the place. Back then, I found it bizarre that a modern pavilion had been built over the ruins. The textbooks would talk about the great adobe homes of the early tribes, but they’d never, ever mention this canopy. The pictures were a bizarre mix of old and new that made no sense.

Twenty years later, when I finally arrived at the site in person, it still looked goofy. Obviously this canopy was intended to protect the ancient structure from the Arizona monsoons (an infrequent but torrential series of rainstorms), and I suppose that’s goodness, but it still seems as if it’s manufactured for our pleasure, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. The surroundings made it seem worse: a gigantic Volde-Mart, replete with acres and acres of SUV-laden parking lots, sits right across the street. “Come and see the ruins, then spend your hard-earned cash on Made in China crap that will kill your pets and poison your children!!”

Bumper sticker available at www.stampandshout.com

There’s actually a huge controversy in the American preservation movement. How far should the government or private interests go to preserve historical relics such as the Casa Grande Ruins? After all, entropy is part of human existence as well. Does this preservation serve the interests of history and culture, or does it simply serve the interests of developers looking to profit off a landmark? Should nature be allowed to take its course, or should we spend millions preserving relics?

Casa Grande Walls -- public domain photo from www.ohranger.comThere was a story on NPR this week about German castles. See, most of the great castles in Germany were destroyed in World War II. Now that Germany is back from the brink of destruction, they find they miss their castles. So they are in the process of re-building their old castles from scratch to house … shopping malls. Oh yes, there’s historical context for you. “And here, the Earl of Salzburg would enjoy an Orange Julius while his daughters leered at the 12-foot, half-naked himboes plastered on the windows of Abercrombie & Fitch.”

There are a lot of naturally preserved tribal dwellings all over Arizona, mostly cliff dwellings in places like Walnut Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. So you have to wonder why they went to such great lengths to preserve this one in 1932. Tourism, no doubt. But at one time native Americans lived in grand adobe buildings on the open flatlands, at the crossroads of enormous north-south, east-west trade routes. Casa Grande is the best example still standing on this continent. It fills an important niche in the physical historic record of the country.  In 1932, at the height of the Depression, it must have been hard to get the funding to build the canopy. I guess we should be thankful.

But to look at the site with its own personal pavilion, you have to ask yourself “is this too goofy?”

Public domain photo taken from Wikipedia

[I didn’t own a digital camera when I visted Casa Grande. All photos are public domain, hover over each pic for source info]



Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Wikipedia Article on the Hohokam Period

Google map to Casa Grande

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