chiricahua   9 comments

Posted at 1:47 pm in Arizona,geology,sabrina,trees

panorama view of the stone columns at Chiricahua National Monument – as seen from Masai Point

Where to start when writing about the winter that Sabrina and I have spent in southeast Arizona? We have wandered in many places, beginning with slow walks along the San Pedro River, then eventually moving up to hiking the higher elevation trails in the many mountain ranges of this region. Both of us needed to regain a lot of the strength that had been drained away through many months of stress before leaving on our trip across the continent.

Today, I thought I’d write a bit about Chiricahua National Monument as I’ve been there several times over the past four months. Each time family or friends have visited, this is the one place that I feel they cannot miss seeing. With that in mind, I felt it was something I should bring to all of you. I know that photographs cannot do it justice as the scale of this place is beyond imagining, but this is my attempt.

The Chiricahua Mountains are among several ranges of southeast Arizona, southwest New Mexico, and northwest Mexico, that are referred to as the Sky Islands. They rise up thousands of feet above the surrounding desert and grassland basins. Many are forested, and their canyons filled with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It’s probably needless to say that, over the winter, I have spent many days walking among the canyons of several ranges.

Chiricahua National Monument is located on the northwest side of the Chiricahua Range. At some point, I will write about some other places in the range. Entering the park, a winding road leads through lower elevation forests of sycamore and live oaks along a canyon creek. Then the road begins to climb past massive “organ pipe” rock formations, eventually coming to a look-off at Masai Point. The panorama shot above (click on it to see a larger view) was taken from the look-off. The view defies description. You are looking out across a huge valley entirely filled with hundreds – well, perhaps more like thousands – of massive, tower-like columns. Many are said to be over 10 stories tall, and I believe the tallest stands almost 150 feet. The scale of what lies before you is perplexing. Tall trees seem diminutive, appearing more like small bushes clinging to the hillsides among the formations.

on the Echo Canyon Trail that leads through a section of the column-filled valley

There are trails leading down into the valley among the formations. I have hiked a section of the Echo Canyon Trail. Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted in the trails that enter the valley, so my time was limited as I left Sabrina with my brother during one of my visits. However, an hour spent among the columns was enough to get some feel for the place and make me hopeful to come back to hike more of the trail system some day.

a view off to the side of the trail where the columns stand in deeper sections of the valley

Rather than struggle to write an explanation of how these columns were formed, I’ll cheat a little and point you to these photos taken of interpretive signboards here and here. The huge volcanic crater mentioned on one of the signs is visible in the distance when you are standing at the top of Masai Point.

many of the columns are encrusted with brilliant lichen

There is life all around as you wander along the trail between the columns. Many are encrusted with brilliant lichens. Trees manage to find places to grow – Manzanita, Alligator Juniper, Border pinyon and others – but my favourite among them is the Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica). The scent of these trees fills the air along many sections of the trail. It’s an odd but, to me, pleasant enough smell, although I have read a reference where it is described as “fetid”. You be the judge. These trees produce the oddest cones – rather like small wooden balls with cracks running through. Here is a photo of a branch with a few cones. One of my field guides states that, “the old round, gray, female cones are about 1 inch in diameter and remain attached for several years on the ends of the branchlets.”

columns range in shape from spires to mushroom-shaped hoodoos

I couldn’t resist including a couple of more photos of columns taken at close range. These were taken in an area called “the grotto” – which is almost cavern-like due to the type of formations.

a massive boulder lodged between spires in the grotto area along the Echo Canyon Trail

A large “boulder” hangs suspended, lodged between columns within the grotto (click on all photos for larger views).

Sabrina with “Cochise Head” in the background

After leaving Echo Canyon, my brother then took his turn hiking the trail while Sabrina and I walked the section of roadway that leads between the Echo Canyon and Sugarloaf Mountain parking lots. It’s a great little walk – birds calling from either side of the roadway bordered by a wonderful variety of trees and bushes that grow at higher elevation. We stopped to rest at a spot where I photographed Sabrina sitting in front of a conspicuous rock formation on a distant peak. It’s known as Cochise Head. Here’s a clearer photo of the formation. You must agree that it is interesting, no?

Despite being a little rushed, I’m going to try to put up another post or two this week. After that, posts may be sporadic for while. Believe it or not, after taking all of this time to write about my journey to southeast Arizona, and then the months spent here, the time has come to pack up and leave to return to my farm. I have mixed feelings about the next part of my journey. I am trying to find the “positive” in traveling through the western states and then back across Canada as the land awakens to springtime. However, I am not feeling any of the “drive” that it took to get to my winter refuge. In large part, it’s because I don’t look forward to my return home. For me, life has taken an irreversible change in direction. The farm that once meant so much to Don and I, no longer holds any attraction. In fact, it is now a reminder of a great deal of pain and sadness. My winter away has confirmed one thing, and that is that I will not overly miss the place that has been my home for the past 32 years. There are sure to be some major changes in the works over the next couple of months, but more about that later. For now, please enjoy the Arizona posts as I have time to put them up.

Written by bev on March 11th, 2009

Tagged with , , , ,

9 Responses to 'chiricahua'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'chiricahua'.

  1. Very nice post on an unusual area, Bev. The link you give mentions mountain lions and ocelots! And javelinas, of course.

    I didn’t realize that was volcanic rock. Did you put that panorama together from several photos? If so, it looks seamless.

    You sent a couple of photos a few weeks ago, and the first thing I noticed were the lichens. They are indeed colorful! We don’t see color like that until we get up into exposed rock in the higher elevations in the Appalachians.

    I see how the trip back will not be the same as the journey to Arizona, but hope that you will find enjoyment in it nonetheless. You’ve come to some difficult decisions, but it seems that you’re very clear about them. I’ll certainly be interested in reading about how things are working out.

    It’s good to see Sabrina there!


    12 Mar 09 at 5:26 am

  2. Wayne – From what I’ve been told by area residents, mountain lions are not at all uncommon throughout this region. On the other hand, I haven’t heard much said about Ocelots. I did see one in captivity at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum back in December. I went looking for info on them and did find some mention here – see second page “Range within Arizona”.

    Yes, that area in the Chiricahuas has a lot of volcanic geology. I love exploring such areas as you often come across some pretty interesting looking rocks, formations, etc… I’ll be on the lookout for plenty of that kind of thing on the way north by my rather meandering route.

    Re: the panorama. That was stitched from two photos. I did it without use of a panorama maker program. My usual M.O. is import photos I’ve just taken in any setting on my camera into Adobe Elements (I rarely use panorama mode), then open a good big “new” image file. Then I resize the photos to some approximate amount and drag them onto that new image screen. I juggle them around a bit to see how well they fit together. If necessary, I will resize one or more as there is often at least a small difference in size (2 or 3 percent or so). Then I use brightness and contrast controls to adjust the colour — I usually try to use the sky colours to do so as they are the most sensitive. Basically, I’m probably doing what a typical panorama maker program would do, but I have more individual control over the process. Seems to work.

    There are some really neat lichens down here. Most seem to be of the brilliant yellowish to lime green, but there are also some wonderful rusty ones too. I have done literally nothing to learn about the types here, but must do some reading up on it when I get the time. I would guess that the ones I’m seeing on granite formations might be xanthoria, but I dunno.

    The trip homewards already “feels” different than the trip down here. On the way here, I was very driven – I think I was running on adrenalin, pain, etc… I don’t feel the same now – despite what you might expect after spending the winter here, I feel kind of drained and fatigued, so there isn’t that adrenalin-fed power source to operate with. However, I believe I’ll be in a better space to observe and contemplate my surroundings. On the way down, certain unusual objects or geography, etc.. caught my attention, but my “old” ability to see the most minute of objects seemed out of whack. That has been gradually returning. It’s still not great, but better than it has been.

    And yes, Sabrina had a good time there. She’s still sort of tired and creaky, but so much better than she was on the way down. I didn’t think that, given her age, she could make much of a recovery, but she seems to be doing a lot better. I hope the trip homeward will be a positive thing for her. My plan is to do much less driving per day, and leave us more time for walking around and relaxing.


    12 Mar 09 at 10:17 am

  3. It is truly magnificent there, bev. Your photos do present the grandness of it quite beautifully. It looks like a good place to have wandered and explored for a winter. Sabrina looks like the desert has been good for her too. I’m glad to see that.

    I do panoramas the way you do on Photoshop Elements. It’s a bit easier with Photoshop CS, but I don’t have that at home (yet).

    robin andrea

    12 Mar 09 at 10:43 am

  4. On this cold windy grey Western Washington day, it’s wonderful to see that healing American Southwest desert light. The light is just as I remember it, although I was there in late August. Eastern Washington has light something like that. So does the high desert beyond the Fraser River canyon in British Columbia.

    I love Sabrina’s expressiveness.

    Wishing you well as you prepare to continue on your journey to the center.

    Have you come across the book by Joy Harjo and Stephen Strom, SECRETS FROM THE CENTER OF THE WORLD? It’s a small book with writings and photographs of Arizona landscape, published in 1989.

    “My cheek is flat against memory described by stone and lichen. The center of the world is within reach. It is as familiar as your name, as strange as monsters in your sleep.”
    (Joy Harjo, p. 48)


    14 Mar 09 at 1:01 pm

  5. Aha! Now that I know what to look for, it is just possible to see the seam, but I am impressed that you did it “by hand.” Some of the panorama stitchers I have used don’t do as good a job.

    In a way I’m kind of sad that your long-time home has lost its appeal, but i fully understand. I’m guessing (and I’m not good at that) that it will occupy a special place in your memory, if not now, then later. The bad experiences seem to sear themselves into our memories much more strongly that good experiences, and especially more strongly than the routine things that make up so much of life. But in my case, when my father died, it seemed to free him to become his true self in my memory. His physical condition had declined severely in the last year or so of his life, but when he died, in my mind he became the vigorous man I knew and loved for so many years before.


    17 Mar 09 at 1:12 pm

  6. Oh Bev,

    It’s good to see this most unusual place through your eyes. I really need to get there. Volcanism fascinates me. I think perhaps it’s that the ‘fact’ of it – the immensity – the unthinkable power – is reduced by time to its fossil remnants that you shared, here. The links were great. Thanks.

    I think of you and sweet Sabrina on your voyage north. I understand why the wind in your sails is not as powerful as the one that helped you turn south for the winter.

    Your comment about having had trouble focusing on minute details landed with me. I think when we suffer that keeping our eyes lifted towards the macro rather than micro – the great rather than minuscule – helps us gain our footing – helps restore perspective in the grand scheme of life. Or not ;0) Just me blowing hot air.

    Hmmm. Or perhaps it simply is not as taxing. Focusing takes energy.

    Anyway, Bev, I hope that your energy continues to return and that you encounter much beauty and wonder as you travel.


    19 Mar 09 at 2:39 pm

  7. Hello all,
    I’ve been camping my way up from Arizona through Utah, so just checking my email and trying to write a blog post or two while I have a net connection today.

    robin – Yes, the desert seems to have been good for Sabrina, and for me too. Less creakiness in our joints!

    am – I’ve noticed the similarity in the light in central Oregon – well, that and the colours of the high desert. There’s something about the light and colours that feels so right to me. Thanks for posting the Harjo passage and mentioning the book. It’s lovely. I shall have to look for the book.

    Mark – I’ve found most of the panorama stitchers a bit lacking. It’s fairly quick to stitch one or more photos together “by hand” in most photo programs. I guess that thing I like about doing them that way is that you can resize images while shuffling them around so that they fit together better. It’s rare to have images just line up perfectly, and also for the light levels not to be a little different in each one. I can adjust all of this stuff by eye while fitting the images together.

    Agree with all that you have written about our memory of good and bad things. For the first few months after Don’s death, I kept having disturbing dreams relating to his illness. However, in the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple of dreams where he seemed well, the way I would prefer to remember him. Regarding the decision to leave the farm at this time, I think it will be a positive thing in the long run. We had always planned to move to Nova Scotia, and in fact, this or last summer probably would have been about when it would have happened. I’m sorry about the circumstances, but I think the plan is still the right one for my future. Of course, that’s hard to know for sure – but I have to just rely on my instincts and they seem to be pointing to the east.

    Cathy – Yes, you *do* need to visit Chiricahua. I’m sure you would love it there – as much for the sounds and smells as for the sights. Southern Utah has also been spectacular from a geological point of view. I’ll definitely return to explore further.

    On focusing on the macro and micro – yes, it does take energy to pay attention to small details. These days, I find that it takes a large amount of energy to do things like figuring out trip routes, driving, finding campsites, trying to keep camera and other batteries charged, make sure that Sabrina is well fed, etc.. Don and I always split all of the responsibilities of being on the road. It’s very difficult to take care of every detail now. In my wanderings, I have seen so few “solo travelers” on the road, especially those who are camping in the more off the beaten track campsites. I suspect this has something to do with dealing with things alone. Over the past few months, I’ve come to the realization that traveling alone has made me something of a curiosity to fellow travelers. On the occasions when people have spoken to me while I’m camped or on the road, often the first thing they ask is why I’m traveling alone. It’s a bit odd and disconcerting to be noticed for that particular reason.


    23 Mar 09 at 11:32 am

  8. I finally found the time to go through your wonderful images and last couple of posts. As always, you write in a way that makes me feel as if I’m there with you enjoying the beauty (I wish!) I can only imagine the mixed feelings you have returning to the farm – I received your message on FB and do hope you have time to skype me along the way (and I hope my card arrived before you left)
    I’ve missed the desert since leaving there so many years ago- I always found it so healing and hope to return there again myself someday..
    continued good wishes for you and Sabrina!


    23 Mar 09 at 1:16 pm

  9. What a cool area. I love that shot of the suspended boulder.


    30 Mar 09 at 5:16 pm

Leave a Reply