April 30, 2017

Chiricahua National Monument

"I am alone in the world. I want to live in these mountains;
 I do not want to go to Tularosa. That is a long way off. 
I have drunk of the waters of the Dragoon Mountains and hey have cooled me; 
I do not want to leave here.
Nobody wants peace more than I do. Why shut me up on a reservation?
We will make peace; we will keep it faithfully. 
But let us go around free as Americans do. Let us go wherever we please."
Cochise-Chief of the Chokonen Band of the Chiricahua Apache

As a kid growing up in the 50's, my favorite tv shows or movies were never the cartoon shows of that time...but the old westerns. I rarely missed an episode of my favorite television shows...Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Death Valley Days and The Lone Ranger. And I can honestly say I have watched the greatest westerns of all time...The Searchers, Red River, High Noon, Shane and Stagecoach over 20 times each. I idolized those fictional and historical heroes. The lawmen, cowboys, mountain men and Native American warriors were always in my dreams. And as an adult I became fascinated and "addicted" with the mountain man era, 1820 to 1840, and the sixteen Rocky Mountain Rendezvous (I visited the actual sites of 13 Rendezvous). Hovering at the top of my list though was my fascination and reverence of the Apache Native Americans especially, the fiercest band of Apache, the legendary Chiricahuas of Arizona and New Mexico. Who has not heard the names of Geronimo, Magnus Colorado, Victorio or Cochise? These were some of the most famous and feared Native American chiefs and warriors. And all were Chiricahua Apache.

Tim and Denise, Gone With The Dogs, had expressed to us their desire to explore the Chiricahuas and that is when the monument entered our radar. Then our friends, Susan and Kevin, shared how the Chiricahua National Monument was one of their favorite places in southern Arizona to visit. Well, we made sure that if we were within a days drive, the monument would be a new BlaNicS Waypoint.

As you enter Chiricahua National Monument you are climbing into an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding sea of grassland. Meadows dotted with cactus and mesquite begin to fill with sycamore, juniper and oak, landscape typical of this part of the Southwest. It is the expansive canvas of rock pinnacles looming over like guardians of the forest that announce you have entered Chiricahua country.

The Chiricahua Apache called these pinnacles "standing up rocks' and from the early 1400's, the Chokonen band made these mountains their home. Nomads and superb warriors, the Apaches fiercely resisted colonization and were at a state of war with all neighboring tribes and emigrants until they surrendered to the U.S. government in 1886.

Established in 1924, Chiricahua National Monument comprises 12,025 acres and there are 17 miles of trails featured within the park. The NPS offers free shuttle service to the top of Bonita Canyon Drive to different trailheads. We hiked from the Massai Point trailhead and made a big loop, using four different trails, allowing us to see much of outer rim and inner canyons of this "sky island."

Each day during our stay we tried, but could not spot the elusive coatimundi native to this area. They were there though, as fellow campers and hikers did catch a glimpse of them running across the road. Bonita Canyon Campground offered many scenic views of the canyon and trails to the visitor center and along side the creek to Faraway Ranch. This historic ranch tells the story of how a family of Swedish immigrants turned their homestead within Bonita Canyon into a guest ranch for 56 years, sharing this wonderland of rocks with guests, photographers and birders from all over the world. 

I have no doubt the Chiricahua Apache believed their land was more valuable than money...that it would last forever and not even perish by the flames of fire. And so it will be, that as long as the the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will continue to give life to men, animals, memories and dreams.

At Waypoint 32.01071, -109.35528

April 2, 2017

Kartchner Caverns State Park

"The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the 
source of what you are looking for."
Joseph Campbell
Tombstone storefront prop
Powerful quote! It reminds me of my own past...of when I had to stop searching for Who I Am and begin searching for Who I Want To Be. It took 43 years dotted with fear, suffering, challenges and deficiency to find the courage to do so. I smile now, surreal, when I think about all those trials and tribulations...how can I not...they were my portals of discovery. Today, the most stress I have is following Imkelina's directions to Kartchner Caverns. And truth to be told...I still don't know who I want to be...but I am no longer fleeing, I found myself and I know what I am looking for.
Kartchner Caverns located under hill mounds on right, visitor center in background on left
The story of Kartchner Caverns started in 1974, with Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts never-ending quest for adventure. And they knew what they were seeking...to find a cave that no one had ever found. Well they found it and the rest is history. Spelunking, is an extreme sport and the cavers that partake are definitely a unique breed of explorers. I quiver just thinking of my own claustrophobia, but I now know why those t-shirts say "Cavers Rescue Spelunkers".
Kartchner Caverns, was voted the best cave in the United States in a 2016 USA Today poll. The caverns feature an incredible cluster of formations that when illuminated offer a beautiful kaleidoscope of reflections, patterns, shapes and colors. As I am not a "cave boy" with my phobia...I have no doubt the cavern would be far more dazzling than I have just described to individuals who are fans of caves. Great measures are taken to protect the fragile formations and level of humidity inside the caverns and as such, no dazzling inside shots of "the Throne Room" and Kubla Kahn or the 45,000 year-old bat guano.
Dragoon Mountains
For me, the true attraction for was the wonderful interpretive visitor center and the desert landscape encircling the caves. The campground offered many panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, the Whetstone, Dragoon and Chiricahuas. One afternoon, we were greeted with the foreboding signs of wild storm. And sure enough, that night we became engrossed in a wondrous display of lightning strikes, hail and ground shaking thunder, which freaked out Sydney, who spent the storm shuddering on Imkelina's lap. These snakelike strikes danced all around us for better than an hour. Quite impressive!

view of visitor center from Foothills Loop Trail
As usual, Imkelina found a hike, the 2.4 mile long Foothills Loop Trail. The trail yielded some impressive views of the mountain ranges and valleys as it meandered around the campground, the cavern site and visitor center.
2017 "Gunslingers" with cell phones and bic lighters
And for you history buffs or old west groupies that always had a yearning to visit Tombstone and the O.K. Corral, curb your eagerness. This "film set" is extremely commercialized, not historically accurate and for my taste buds, few opportunities to excite them. The actual shootout took place in a narrow lot six doors west of the Corral's rear entrance and lasted only 30 seconds. Tombstone and the O.K Corral only became famous after Wyatt Earp died. However, Imkelina did find a cool shop that sold some tasty Killer Bee Honey.

Well, I definitely have no desire to go crawl around in caves, but I really like the word "spelunking" and may use it in future conversations...per the Urban Dictionary there are many nuances for the word.

At Waypoint 31.83414, -110.35003