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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Las Cienegas Wildlife

In our brief stay here, and our travels nearby, we've spotted all sorts of wildlife.  The most amazing are the pronghorn antelope, who hang out near our RV occasionally.  This morning, we caught them running and leaping across the grasslands.  Be patient with the detailed expose on grass that appears in the middle of the video - there's a payoff:


Here is a complete list of all the wildlife we've seen this week:

Two crows on poles
Nine pronghorn - four grazing and five running
Two flycatchers perching and singing
One fat robin perching and singing
Two javelina, running from us
Two baby cows (well, not so wild life, but still notable)
One scratching horse butt (ditto)
One burro (ditto again)
Lots and lots of songbirds we couldn't identify
One harrier hawk, seen repeatedly in our neighborhood
Several mule deer
One fat grey squirrel
One owl that kept David awake one night
One grey rabbit we flushed on our morning walk
One BIG jackrabbit we flushed, who gave us a show, leaping across the grassland
Three roadrunners
One crow that followed us on our Jeep drive for 2 miles, obviously hoping we would run over or flush something for his lunch.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Tale of Three Springs

Hi Blog!

From our campsite in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, we can see Mt. Wrightson and the Santa Rita Mountains to our west. They were calling us to come over and take a hike. After a little Google searching, we discovered that Madera Canyon was just a short drive around the mountain range. The canyon and its immediate surroundings are home to wide variety of flora and fauna, ranging from cactus covered desert in the lower reaches of the canyon to aspen and pine forests on the slopes of Mount Wrightson. It has been said that a hike in Madera Canyon is like walking from Arizona to Canada. So, what will take us months to drive, we can do in a single day hike. How cool is that!

On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, we drove over to the Bog Springs Campground in the Coronado National Forest. There are a few trailhead parking spots in the campground. After paying our day use fee, we hit the trail. Since the weather had been so hot recently, we decided to do a hike to three different springs and leave the mountain climbing for cooler weather.  Below, Kathy examines the trailhead sign to decide which direction we should go:

Although we didn't plan to climb it, Mt. Wrightson was never far from view. The mountain was named for William Wrightson, a miner and entrepreneur in the region killed by Apaches in the 1865 Battle of Fort Buchanan.

We followed the Bog Springs Trail up, up and more up! By the time the hike was done, we had climbed almost 2,000 feet in 2.7 miles, which is steep for us.  We soon had amazing views of the valley below.

All that uphill makes a hiker hot and thirsty. Here Kathy shows the most expedient method for cooling down.  (No, David had not admonished her to go do that.)

The Santa Rita Mountains were filled with prospectors in the early 1900s, with over a dozen mines operating in Madera Canyon alone. The result is a network of old trails and roads, as well as springs identified and developed where they sprung.  It wasn't surprising, then, that we could find more springs.  After leaving Bog Springs, we worked our way up and over to Kent Spring. The trail weaved in and out a number of drainages following old pack trails.  Here, David is doing his best to imitate an old pack mule:

The year-round water near Bog Springs provides the perfect habitat for Arizona Sycamore trees:

Where there be trees there be squirrels!

As we hiked over the shoulder from the Bog Springs drainage to the Kent Spring drainage, we were rewarded with more great views.

We also got up close and personal with Mt. Wrightson.

While Kent Spring was not as inviting as Bog Springs, it was located in a beautiful valley.  Unfortunately, the water of Kent Spring wasn't nearly as inviting as that of Bog Spring --

-- however, a nearby stream flowed strong and cold, so we had a chance to soak tired feet in cold water nevertheless.

For some reason, cherry blossoms were in full bloom!  David allowed as how some Johnny Cherryseed probably spit his pits out near the trail, and thus grew two young cherry trees:

We found a pretty little spot right next to the creek to have our picnic lunch:

We relaxed knowing that all of our uphill was behind us. Little did we know it was all STEEP downhill from here.  For the moment, however, we enjoyed this beautiful stream:

The trail down from Kent Spring to Sylvester Spring followed an old mining road. It was almost a mile straight down (and we mean STRAIGHT)!  The trail was steep and rocky and required a lot of tip-toeing to keep from sliding on the loose gravel. It was about this time that Kathy realized she was no longer wearing her hat. She had taken it off at Kent Spring to soak her head in the creek. To retrieve it would mean an additional mile uphill and another mile downhill. Goodbye, hat!

The Sylvester Spring was in much better shape than Kent Spring. However, the design of the spring made for an interesting optical illusion.  If you look closely at the photo below, the spring container wall is clearly higher on the left than on the right, but the water fills it up on both sides.  Must be funny minerals in this spring water.

The road followed the stream, crossing back and forth as it worked its way down the valley. We were rewarded with a number of small waterfalls. This Transition Zone (we never reached the Canadian Zone beginning at 8,000 feet, but it is characterized by aspen and Douglas Fir) is characterized by many plants common to the Rocky Mountains.  The valley was filled with Ponderosa pine, deciduous Gambel oak, smooth sumac, maples, and other mountain species.

As we hiked away from the creek, we found ourselves descending into the Upper Sonoran zone.  This zone is cooler and more moist than the Lower Sonoran, but of course warmer and drier than the Transition Zone. It is composed primarily of two woodland plant communities and represented by plants such as evergreen oaks, alligator juniper, Mexican piñon pine, shrubs and bunchgrasses.

By the time we returned to the trailhead, we had logged a demanding 5 miles - 2.7 miles up and 2.3 miles down, with elevation gain and loss averaging 750 or 800 feet per mile.  By the time we reached our Jeep, our poor little puppies were barking.

And so ends our hike from the desert floor to the mountain side. We hope to be back some day.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Empire Ranch

We are camped on what was part of the original Empire Ranch but is now designated the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.  It is located on the eastern slope of the Santa Rita Mountains in Cienega Valley, fifty-two miles southeast of Tucson and about ten miles north of Sonoita. The property overlooks a shallow depression called Empire Gulch, through which a spring-fed rivlet bordered by cottonwoods courses eastward to Cienega Creek. The surrounding meadows are "thickly covered" with sacaton and salt grass.  The ranch was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In its heyday, Empire Ranch was one of the largest in Arizona, with a range spanning over 180 miles, and its owner, Walter L. Vail, was an important figure in the establishment of southern Arizona's cattle industry.

The ranch's isolation and its herd of workhorses made it a likely target for attack by local Indian tribes. The horses had to be constantly guarded. During the day, the riding stock grazed in a large fenced-in pasture 600 feet from the ranch house. At night they corralled their stock in an adobe enclosure attached to the house. The Indian activity prompted the United States Army to take action. Writing to his brother, Walter reported that "this last outbreak has made so much talk that the Government is going to establish a fort 25 miles south of our place, which I hope will put a stop to Indian trouble in this part of the country." As anticipated, the army established Camp Huachuca in 1877. However, the camp was too distant to provide protection for the Cienega Valley. Vail and his partners refused to be terrorized by the Apaches. They instructed their cowboys to ride the range well-armed and never alone. Even when renegades were reported in the vicinity the cattlemen would not curtail ranch activities. The youthful cattlemen did not suffer greatly from the Apaches. They struck repeatedly in the vicinity but made off with only two horses of the Empire Ranch.

While Walter and his partners were readying their first cattle for market, a silver discovery was made near Empire Ranch which vitally affected its destiny. In January 1879, an itinerant prospector named John T. Dillon, located three mining claims on the boulder-strewn eastern slope of the Empire Mountains. "The whole damned hill is a total wreck," Dillon remarked to co-claimants Walter L. Vail and John A. Harvey. Vail and Harvey liked the description and christened one of the three sites the "Total Wreck Mine."

By 1951, Frank Boice and his family assumed full control of the property. Around the same time, the ranch was featured in several Western films starring many of Hollywood's most famous actors.  John Wayne, Barbara Stanwick, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin, Kirk Douglas, William Holden, Burt Lancaster, Shelley Winters, Jennifer Jones, Steve McQueen, Gregory Peck, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart and others have made such classic films as “Red River,” “Duel in the Sun,” “Hombre,” “Winchester 73,” “The Big Country” and many others on or near the Empire Ranch.

In 1969, Empire Ranch was sold to the Gulf American Corporation for a proposed real estate development and later resold to the Anamax Mining Company for mining and water potential. None of these developments materialized, and the ranch continued to work with cattle. In the 1980s, the owners began to restore the buildings to their original state and in 1988 the ranch became public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Empire Ranch Foundation was established as a private non-profit organization in 1997 to work with the BLM to develop private support to preserve the buildings and enhance the educational and recreational opportunities it offers to the public. In 2000, Congress combined Empire Ranch and the surrounding ranchland with the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.

The main ranch headquarters, which was the residence of the Walter Vail family and those of subsequent owners, as well as housing for cowboys and ranch hands, is in the process of restoration. We decided to drop over and take a look.

The ranchhouse was built in stages from 1870 until 1886.  In its final form, it included the main family quarters, cowboy and ranch hand quarters, a kitchen and cook's quarters, a ranch manager's residence, and corrals for the precious livestock:

As noted above, the ranch owners kept their livestock close to protect them from thieves.  In the original design of the house, livestock could only enter or leave the corral through the breezeway that ran the length of the original house, giving the owners the best chance to hear and stop intruders.

The family quarters, one of the later additions, became the formal entrance for guests, but is situated at the back of the complex:

Here, David examines the breezeway, or zaguan, that ran the length of the main house.  The complex had two or three breezeways.  Doors to individual rooms opened directly onto the breezeways.  This allowed the maximum circulation of cool breezes and, with the very high ceilings of the rooms, and many windows, created maximum ventilation and cooling.

Here is a view of the corral that was originally only accessible through the main breezeway:

The family's living room was dramatic, with a huge bay window looking across to one of the other ranch owner's houses:

The family living space also boasted a large screened-in porch just outside the children's quarters, giving children a large, shaded, protected area for their activities:

We were fortunate to have a chance to tour the complex, because local newspapers advised us that it is about to be closed indefinitely for structural and other renovations.  We're glad we had a chance to complete our understanding of this historic site with a tour of the ranch structure itself.

Jeeping in the Patagonia Mountains

Hi Blog!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017, was our first full day near Patagonia, Arizona. We started the day with a delicious breakfast at the Gathering Grounds, a cute coffee shop in downtown Patagonia that was introduced to us by our good friends Gaila and Dick Mallery. Well worth the stop. Now on to the outdoor adventure!

With full bellies and our Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails book in hand, we headed up into the Patagonia Mountains. Aside from a few stretches of private property, most of our drive would be in the Coronado National Forest.

Livestock grazing is an important activity in the Coronado National Forest, with over 35,000 head of cattle permitted on almost 200 allotments. We had to be on the lookout because momma cows will bring their babies down next to road to get the sweetest grass.

Just a few miles from Patagonia, we crossed the Arizona National Scenic Trail which goes from Mexico to Utah and traverses the whole north–south length of the State of Arizona. The 800-mile long Arizona Trail was completed on December 16, 2011. The trail is designed as a primitive trail for hiking, equestrians, mountain biking, and even cross country skiing, showcasing the wide variety of mountain ranges and ecosystems of Arizona.  Dick Mallery, who we mentioned above, is one of those who has hiked the length of this trail; consequently, we were curious to get an idea of it.

The first ghost town on our list was Harshaw. Do you like the spooky looking gleam in the upper left corner of the photo?

Harshaw was settled in the 1870s, in what was then the Arizona Territory. Founded as a mining community, Harshaw was named after the cattleman-turned-prospector David Tecumseh Harshaw, who first successfully located silver in the area. At the town's peak near the end of the 19th century, Harshaw's mines were among Arizona's highest producers of ore, with the largest mine, the Hermosa, yielding approximately $365,455 in bullion over a four-month period in 1880.  This is one of the few remaining structures:

Throughout its history, the town's population grew and declined in step with the price of silver, as the mines and the mill opened, closed, and changed hands over the years. By the 1960s, the mines had shut down for the final time, and the town, which was made part of the Coronado National Forest in 1953, became a ghost town.  Here's a photo of the town cemetery, which crawled up a hill across the road from the abandoned town center:

We continued our journey up into the mountains to the abandoned town of Mowry. We missed our turn to the town site, but as we circled back, we were lucky enough to spot two pecaries cross the road. A peccary (also known as a javelina or skunk pig) is a medium-sized hoofed mammal native to the Americas, which are often confused with pigs. These speedy little guys didn't stay still long enough for a good photo.

Shortly after spotting the pecaries we found the town of Mowry. Sylvester Mowry was an American best known as a pioneer and the founder of Mowry, Arizona. He also served as an officer in the United States Army and was arrested as a traitor during the American Civil War.  Mowry became interested in mining and prospecting and in 1860 he purchased the Patagonia silver mine just southeast of the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona. After renaming it the Mowry Silver Mine, Mowry began constructing a mill and a smelter for extracting precious minerals.

A small settlement formed around the mining works which today is the ghost town of Mowry, Arizona. Mining occupied Mowry's time until 1862, by which time the Civil War had already begun and Confederate Arizona Territory had been established. Though a northerner and Republican, Mowry was a firm supporter of the new territory, as were many other Republicans in Arizona, during the Civil War, the majority of the Confederacy's political leadership were Democrats. When Union forces captured Tucson, they arrested Sylvester Mowry at his mine. Charged with selling lead to Arizona's Confederate militias. Mowry felt an obligation to sell lead to his fellow frontiersmen, regardless of political stance. In the early 1860s, the Apache were fighting all across southern Arizona. The Mowry Mine and its immediate surroundings was the scene of several Apache attacks before the town was mostly destroyed in 1863.

As we walked around searching the neighborhood for abandoned sites, a large black mound appeared in the distance. It seemed to be volcanic. Our first thought was that it was obsidian. Upon further research, we learned it was black Mowry shale.

The theory is that black Mowry shale formed on the sea floor by the chemical decomposition of slowly accumulated, very fine grained, volcanic ash in the presence of decaying organic matter, including high amounts of silica, which it is theorized came from sea animals rather than sand. It gives the shale a very shiny black appearance, just like obsidian, but with the fragility, layers and flakiness of shale.  Below, Kathy holds all the specimens that were candidates to be adopted by her as "the best black Mowry shale":

With a pocket full of specimens, we continue in search of Arizona history. We traveled in and out between private and public lands. There are a number of historic ranches still in operation up in the Patagonia Mountains. This guy just needed to stop for a scratch.

We soon came to the town of Duquesne. While much of the area is abandoned, the town itself is located on private property. During its heyday, Duquesne boasted 1,000 residents, several businesses and numerous homes, one of which was a large Victorian frame house belonging to George Westinghouse. The home still stands, although in disrepair. Other remains include a smaller frame house, a boarding house and brothel, an adobe commercial building and an old cemetery.  (Dave just said to me:  "You mean we missed the brothel???")

Duquesne was founded in 1890, a year after George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Electric Company bought up a majority of the Patagonia claims and organized the Duquesne Mining & Reduction Company to begin large-scale production. Major production began in 1912 and lasted until 1918, with total production at more than 450,000 tons of zinc, lead and copper ore and silver as a byproduct. The hillsides are full of mining shafts.

After leaving the town of Duquesne, we came across a large historical marker dedicated to Fray Marcos de Niza (c. 1495 – March 25, 1558), a Franciscan friar, credited with being the first European in what is now Arizona. Fray Marcos left Culiacán, Mexico in March 1539, crossed south-eastern Arizona near the present-day Lochiel, and penetrated to the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. He saw the pueblo only from a distance, and his description of it as equal in size to Mexico City was probably exact; but he embodied mere hearsay in other parts of his report, which led Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to make his famous expedition the next year to Zuni Pueblo, in present-day New Mexico, of which Fray Marcos was the guide; and the realities proved a great disappointment. This could explain why his monument is on a desert forest road in the middle of the Coronado National Forest, and not, for example, at the site of the former Zuni Pueblo.

Our last stop was the town of Lochiel. This area was originally inhabited by a small community of Mexican ranchers before a smelting works were erected in the late 1870s to serve the nearby mines in the Patagonia Mountains, bringing in American settlers. By 1881, a town by the name of Luttrell had formed and was home to some 400 people, most of whom worked in the smelter or in the mines, as well as five stores, three saloons, a brewery, a butcher shop, a bakery, livery stables, and a boarding house operated by one Dr. Luttrell, for whom the town was originally named.

In 1884, the cattle baron Colin Cameron established the San Rafael Ranch about a mile north of Luttrell. That same year he managed to have the postmaster in town rename it "Lochiel", after his homeland back in Scotland. Several years after that, the international boundary between Sonora and Arizona was surveyed and it was found that half of the settlement was in Mexican territory. The town was then split in two. La Noria became the name of the Mexican part of town while the American side continued to be known as Lochiel.

In the early 1910s, Pancho Villa and his men rustled cattle and horses in the area on more than one occasion. By this time, the famed businessman William Cornell Greene had acquired ownership of the San Rafael Ranch to use as his headquarters for his cattle ranching empire. The ranch remained in the ownership of Greene's family all the way up until 1998, when it was sold to The Nature Conservancy and Arizona State Parks for use as a nature preserve.

A few people still live in Lochiel to this day. In addition to a collection of old houses, Lochiel is the site of an adobe one-room schoolhouse, a teacherage, an old adobe church, and an abandoned U.S. Customs station.  The schoolhouse has been restored to pristine condition, and we took the opporunity to explore the property:

The return trip was uneventful. We stopped at a primitive camping area for a picnic lunch. On the way back into town, we stopped for a brief chat with one of the locals.

And so ends another jeeping adventure! Stay thirsty my friends.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

Today we moved to a boondock campsite south of Tucson, Arizona, in the grasslands north of Patagonia, Arizona, on BLM land in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.  Here are some of the spectacular views just from our campsite:

The Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is a National Conservation Area of Arizona, located in the transitional zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert.  Once facing an uncertain future that almost certainly included housing and commercial development, today more than 45,000 acres of rolling grasslands and woodlands in Arizona’s Pima and Santa Cruz counties are protected as a National Conservation Area. The region’s rolling grasslands, oak-studded hills that connect several "sky island" mountain ranges, and lush riparian corridors are irresistible to both people and wildlife. Ciénega Creek, with its perennial flow and lush riparian corridor, forms the lifeblood of the NCA and supports a diverse plant and animal community.

As we stood at our campsite, the wind arose and blew the grasses around us.  It was very dramatic:


A poem came to mind:

Waṣaʼi kch Hewel 
(Grass and Wind)

                                             I sometimes wish I were Paleo,
                                             Finding myself in the high grasslands, 
                                            Where the only sound is the wind,
                                            And the only motion is of the grasses in the wind.

                                            Great Spirit, blow wisdom into me.
                                            Let me laugh like the O'odham,
                                            Cry like the eagle,
                                            Embrace a tree the way a child does,
                                            Sigh for my loved ones like the ghosts
                                            Of the Southwest Plains.

                                            Let me know the spirits of plants and animals like kin.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hike to Victoria Mine and the Lost Cabin - Organ Pipe National Monument

On Sunday morning, March 12, our dear friends George and Nan and Gaila and Dick all departed, headed their separate ways on further adventures.  We didn't get as early a start as we would have liked, but saying goodbye to friends is more important, so we moved fast to get to the trailhead as early as we could, knowing it would be a four hour hike in 90F sun.  We drove the 20 miles or so down to Organ Pipe National Monument and essayed an 8.5 mile hike to see the Arizona Mine site and the Lost Cabin site.  The Organ Pipe National Monument brochure told us that we could find mining ruins and the remains of an old stone storehouse at the Arizona Mine, and more mining ruins and the remains of a stone cabin at Lost Cabin.  That was good enough for us!

The following history of the Victoria Mine is taken from Victoria Mine," by Ken Shroyer, posted at

"Beginning in the 1890s, the Victoria Mine was the center of ... sporadic mining of gold and silver in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument region. While the most extensive efforts occurred between the 1890s and the 1910s, periodic mining efforts took place through 1976, operating under a special use permit from the National Park Service. With the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument being designated by the park service as a wilderness area, all mining ceased after 1976.

"The early development of the Victoria Mine was politically tied to the Ortega hacienda at Santo Domingo, Mexico. Cipriano Ortega, a Mexican national and businessman acquired the mine in 1880.  It is estimated that $80,000 of silver ore was mined under Ortega’s operations through 1899.  During Ortega’s ownership the mine was known as the “La Americana” mine. Milul Levey, an American businessman with ties to Ortega, purchased the mine in 1899. Levey would rename the mine “La Victoria” in honor of Victoria Leon, the wife of Levey’s storekeeper. Levey and subsequent owners, however, extracted only another $40,000 of silver ore, partly because of the high water table of the area and the technical problems associated with sinking the shaft below it.

"Even after the prohibition on mining, the Victoria Mine and its colorful history did not simply vanish.  In 1978, Victoria Mine was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the oldest prospecting sites in southwest Arizona.  Although it originally started out as a Mexican venture, it became a symbol of one of the first American enterprises to penetrate this part of the inhospitable Sonoran Desert. The Victoria Mine’s total output represents a small percentage of Arizona’s total gold and silver output. Yet its significance rests in its effect on the region’s early settlement and the site’s potential for the artifacts, objects, and structures left over from the mine’s productive years to yield information about the desert mining era."

Here's our traditional trailhead photo, with the eponymous organ pipe cactus in the background:

David loves to photograph flowers, but relatively few of them make our blog entries unless they are special.  The prize winner for this hike was this photo of a Fairy Duster's feathery blooms:

Kathy, on the other hand, can't resist those unique Saguaro.  Here, David stares up in amazement at his tall friend:

The stone work on this trail was superb.  Steps were laid into the slopes and stonework was laid to channel rainwater away from the trail.  David tries one of the steps on for size:

About halfway into our hike - a little over 2 miles, we reached the site of the Victoria Mine.  Kathy examines what is left of the stone storehouse, which was in remarkably good shape with wooden window sills intact:

Some mining equipment remained strewn around the site:

Volcanic and seismic activity caused quartz and precious metals to be deposited in the cracks in uplifted schist (old bedrock).  Kathy found this specimen that showed how the copper mineral gets deposited with quartz:

After exploring the Victoria Mine, we continued, up an old mine road, over a saddle in the mountains in which the mining shafts had been dug, back into a circular valley ringed in the ore-rich mountains. We spotted this ocotillo resting in the sun with his organ pipe cactus buddies, and the ridge of mountains in the background:

Eventually, we reached the Lost Cabin ruins.  Finding shade in the interesting rock outcropping pictured further below, we were eating our lunch when this little fellow scampered over to see what we were doing:

From our lunch seats, we could look down on the Lost Cabin.  It is in a state of much greater decay than the Victoria Mine storehouse is, but still sits dramatically on a rise in the foothills, adjacent to what must have been the mine workings of its occupants:

Here is a view of the very unusual pink granite rock formation that rose in the foothills, probably lifted up from bedrock, but eroded into relatively smooth, rounded shapes, partly by the seepage and freezing of water in cracks, and partly by erosion from wind and water on the surfaces:

As we turned back down the trail to return from the Lost Cabin, we looked back for a final view of the ruins and the mountain behind them:

By the time we headed back the trail, it had gotten very hot - nearly 90F as predicted - and we moved deliberately and quickly without pausing for photos as often as we had earlier in the morning.  We did pause to catch a view of these two Saguaro standing as gate keepers at the top of hill where the trail passes between them.

We thanked the cactus guardians for letting us enter their realm and hope that we can get back to this area soon to explore more of the mysteries of the Ajo Mountains.