Revisiting Some Favorite Places

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Chiricahua National Monument.

Leaving Phoenix (actually Tempe) during spring training and not catching a cactus league baseball game was kinda sad, now that I think of it. But our hike in the Superstitions was something those ball players will most likely never experience so it’s a wash. The next few days of our journey found us revisiting some spots we’d explored before but, this time, with a twist.

Oak Flat State Park, located on Hwy. 60 east of Phoenix and en-route to Globe, AZ, was open and we got there late in the afternoon with only a few spots available. Most were occupied by tents or vintage trailers but, interestingly, few occupants. We learned later was that we were (inadvertently) participating in a “camp in” by Native American groups from throughout the southwest who are protesting the conversion of the sacred Native American site/campground into an enormous open-pit copper mine. The bill permitting the closure was passed conspiratorially, attached to another totally unrelated 500-page bill supported by, among others, AZ Senator McCain (of “Bomb, bomb Iran fame). The sell-out was only discovered by the plaintiffs when the surveyors moved in and the camp host moved out. We departed not knowing what was to become of Oak Flat and were dismayed at the prospect of losing the only convenient camping spot permitting us 6 a.m. access to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park just down the road in Superior, AZ.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum was, ironically, the former home of a copper mining tycoon who built his mansion overlooking what is now the arboretum. We learned during a previous visit that getting there at the 6 a.m. opening was perfect temperature for hiking the mile loop, for hunting “early” birds hiding in the multiple floral environments planted by the staff, and for the warm photographic light. There was a slight hiccup as we arrived during “winter” hours and opening was pushed back to 8 a.m. So we became familiar with nearby Superior, AZ, and spotted a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers in the outdoor mining museum/park. After a couple hours wandering around, we grabbed a bite in the park’s comfortable patio and watched a mama Anna’s Hummingbird feeding her two babies not 10’ above us. It was then back into the pick’em-up for our 3 hr. drive to beautiful Chiricahua National Monument. What made this trip different was our route: we bypassed Tucson and took highway 70/191 through Globe, Safford, and dropped onto I-10 just east of Wilcox that acts as the departure point for the Monument 31 miles south into Apache territory. A truly remarkable event occurred that Friday afternoon, however, shortly after arriving in Wilcox.

Sooney earlier received an important email from her sister with the subject line “Trust Matters.” Well, according to Sooney, what’s to trust is a matter of opinion and she summarily trashed it unaware of the sender. After leaving Safford, we still had cell coverage and, after a somewhat frantic conversation with sister Carol, we received another copy of the email that contained a document that, of course, required a Notary. At 4:15. On a Friday. On a road trip in the Arizona desert. She queried Siri on her iPhone about Notary Publics “near to us” and learned of one in Wilcox. It’s now 4:25, and still Friday. Sooney called the bank, explained her predicament, and learned that the person on the line was a Notary. 25 minutes later, she had the document printed, notarized, and mailed. When she pulled out some cash to cover the service, her offer was rejected as notarizing is a public service. Heaven forbid one would ever again be in a similar pinch but, when in Wilcox, you always trust the Compass bank…and Siri.

Masons working on the trail w/o power tools.

Clearly the highlight of our Chiricahua visit was our rendezvous with dear friend, Phil. He had not yet visited this wonderful destination despite its relative proximity to his home in Tucson. It’s sort of like my being raised in Los Angeles and never visiting Joshua Tree National Park until 40+ years later. Se la vie. He arrived in time for a 3rd cup of coffee and off we went to hike the Ed Riggs trail beginning at the summit. I planned to complete the loop in a clockwise fashion so that we’d complete the final uphill stretch in the shade with warm afternoon light illuminating the rocks across the drainage. All went well, sort of. We ended up a couple miles from our car in completely the wrong direction (sort of counter clockwise with a twist), but the good news was our return was as planned. While climbing the Mushroom Rock trail, characterized by a huge boulder balanced precariously on a ridiculously small pedestal, a serendipitous event countered my embarrassment at such poor navigational skills. We happened onto a co-gender trail crew breaking up ½ ton rocks with hand chisels. There were a dozen or so with a trail boss dutifully capturing their efforts on camera but not much more. This brought nostalgic memories of my great grandfather, also a mason, who built the bridges supporting the road to our ancestral village in Italy, Villa Viani, after which his road was named. Being a wilderness area, no power tools are permitted and we learned how massive slabs were unearthed up stream, lifted with winches, slid downstream a couple hundred yards on a zip-line type apparatus, dropped into place, and tediously scored with a chisel until the desired piece broke off. It was then positioned (these are 2-300 pound stones, mind you) into place, without mortar, to both support the trail and retard erosion by the seasonal creek. I asked whether they switched hands with those heavy mallets to prevent atrophy in the opposing arm and they uniformly answered they valued their fingers more.

So ends the final leg of our Arizona journey prior to entering new territory—Texas. Stay tuned.

Sightings along this leg of the journey:

Oak Flats Campground, Superior, AZ
Vermillion flycatcher, Junco, Lesser Goldfinch, Turkey Vulture, Bell’s Vireo, Spotted Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
Neotropic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Verdin, Canyon Wren, Cactus Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Phainopepla, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Hooded Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch

Chiricahua National Monument
Acorn Woodpeckers, Arizona Woodpecker, Stellar’s Jay, Scrub Jay, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Black-throated Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bewick’s Wren, Canyon Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Painted Redstart