Tucson Botanical Garden

March 5, 2022

Nancy and I decided to pay a visit to the Tucson Botanical Gardens on a quiet Saturday morning in early March. The garden grounds are located in the northwest corner of the city, in a pleasant area of residential neighborhoods and small businesses. The gardens are at an expansive former family home, which adds a decided sense of intimacy to the experience of visiting.

We spent most of the morning wandering around the Cactus & Succulents Garden, which afforded us an opportunity to see some really interesting cacti and some birds as well.

This cactus is called Mexican Fence Post. It can grow up to 20 feet tall and, true to its name, is native to Mexico can be grown as a natural living fence.

The Cactus & Succulents Garden features plants from around the world that also perform well in the southern Arizona environment. The plants have been divided into four major areas representing the:

  • Sonoran Desert of North America
  • Chihuahuan Desert of North America
  • Desert regions of South America
  • Desert regions of Africa

Mexico has between 750 and 800 different species of succulents. The United States has about 200 native species, and South America has about a thousand species.

A wandering passerby (it’s Nancy) provides a sense of scale for this cactus that also grows plenty tall. This is called organ pipe cactus, and can grow 20 feet tall with a width of 12 to 15 feet. It is native to Mexico and the United States.

We saw a number of birds at the Botanical Gardens, including five species I’d never seen before.

This is a very common bird, the house finch, but I like the way he’s looking at me.
This grizzled specimen of cactus is a representative of Old Man of the Mountain (Oreocereus trollii), which originates in Argentina. This slow-growing cactus can reach about 3 feet in height.
This is a curve-billed thrasher. It has a remarkable beak. This species is more widespread in New Mexico, but its range also includes southern Arizona and even the very southeast corner of Colorado, as well as western Texas and most of Mexico.
This is a species of agave called whale’s tongue. It can grow up to 4 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide (this is a younger specimen). Mature whale’s tongues (about 10 years old) will send up a flowering stem that reaches up to 14 feet. Like most agaves, the original plant dies after flowering and distributing its seeds.
This small species, Tephrocactus cactaceae, has spines that seem somewhat out of proportion to its body. It is a native of Argentina.
Back to a taller species: this is thick-stemmed totem pole cactus. It grows 10 to 12 feet tall, with smooth skin and no visible spines. It is a native of Sonora and the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.
Here’s the back of a broad-billed hummingbird. I took six or seven photos of this guy, and this is the best of the lot. Hummingbirds just don’t stay still very long. Other new-to-me birds that I saw at the garden were the orange-crowned warbler, the lesser goldfinch, and the verdin. I wish I had better photos to share of those last three, especially the verdin.
Here’s another succulent, crucifixion thorns. Native to Madagascar, this shrub can grow up to 7 feet tall.
Finally, here are several specimens of the distinctive saguaro cactus. Saguaros, native to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, the Mexican state of Sonora, and a couple of areas of California, can grow up to 40 feet tall. We’d see a few more examples of this species when we visited Saguaro National Park a few days after our visit to the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

We were really happy to visit the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It’s always fun to visit a garden that, like Denver’s, is in a residential area, and there were several more habitats in the gardens that showed even more diversity in plants. Even in early March, there were plenty of blooming flowers to enjoy throughout the gardens.

Pima Air & Space Museum, Day 1

March 4, 2022 – Tucson, Arizona

Until 1947, the U.S. Air Force was a component of the U.S. Army (during World War II the branch was known as the United States Army Air Forces). In 1966, during a celebration of the anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Air Force, military commanders in the Tucson area realized that many of the historic World War II- and 1950s-era aircraft stored on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base were being lost – as was much of U.S. military history. Airplane parts were being sent to smelters so their metal could be used in modern aircraft production. Base officials began to set aside examples of the aircraft along the base’s fenced perimeter so that the public could see them. Although the practice saved many aircraft from the smelter, this wasn’t an ideal solution. The Tucson Air Museum Foundation of Pima County was formed that year, and the foundation found a 320-acre site of BLM land just south of the Air Force base. The foundation’s first aircraft acquisition was a B-24 Liberator. Many years (and hanger constructions and aircraft acquisitions and hanger expansions) later, the Pima Air & Space Museum is the country’s largest non-government-funded aviation museum. The museum has more than 100 civilian, military, and experimental aircraft in its four indoor hangers (totaling a quarter-million square feet) alone, as well as many more parked on the grounds outside for a total of about 400 aircraft.

This overhead shot of the Pima Air & Space Museum shows the extent of the museum’s collection [for a sense of scale, the two large gray aircraft next to each other on the left side are B-52 Stratofortresses (Stratofortressi?); they each have wingspans of 185 feet]. The four hangars open to the public are at the top of the photo (courtesy of the Pima Air & Space Museum).

Recognizing that its collection is large and takes aircraft enthusiasts a lot of time to visit, the museum smartly offers a two-day pass that Nancy and I took advantage of. Because March 4 was pretty breezy, we opted to spend that day looking at the aircraft inside the hangers. I’ll share just a few of the ones that I enjoyed viewing, listed in order of their year of introduction.

Introduced in 1939, the Curtiss P-40E-1 Warhawk was heavily used by not just the U.S. Army Air Force, but also the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force during action in World War II. With a production number of 13,378 aircraft, it was the third-most produced American fighter of the war following the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt. The Warhawk lacked a dual-speed supercharger and therefore couldn’t compete in high-altitude combat against the Luftwaffe’s fighters in Europe. It did, however, perform admirably in the theaters of North Africa, the Southwest Pacific, and China. The Warhawk had a top speed of 334 mph.
It was a tremendous pleasure to stand next to this aircraft, one of my favorites of all time. This is the Supermarine Spitfire Fr. XIVe. The Spitfire is recognized as the best British-made fighter of World War II. Along with the Hawker Hurricane, this is the aircraft (or rather, an earlier version of it) that defended London and its environs during the Battle of Britain (July-October 1940). Although more Hurricanes were involved with the battle, the Spitfire’s higher performance gave it a higher victory-to-loss ratio. The aircraft’s design was modified constantly during the course of the war, improving performance through engine changes, wing design, and other alterations. From an aesthetics standpoint I actually prefer earlier versions of the Spitfire in which the fuselage extends to the tail, but the bubble canopy afforded pilots much-improved views. That’s a Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 engine near the left wing, the same V-12 liquid-cooled model that would have been used in this model of Spitfire (earlier models used the Rolls Royce Merlin engine). The Griffon saw widespread use beginning in 1941 and remained in production until 1955. It had a rating output of 1,730-2,420 horsepower. In order to accommodate the Griffon engine, the Spitfire’s nose had to be redesigned and the propeller went from three blades to five. With the Griffon engine, the Mark XIV had a top speed of 446 mph – 20 percent faster than the first production models. Nancy and I appreciated that many of the aircraft on display at the museum had a representative corresponding engine next to them. The last Spitfires were retired from active duty in 1961, but about 70 (out of 20,351 produced) of the aircraft remain airworthy.
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator, introduced in 1941, was used by every branch of the U.S. military in every theater of the war. About 18,500 Liberators were made, including 8,685 by the Ford Motor Company at its Willow Run manufacturing plant near Belleville, Michigan (incidentally, we have camping plans at a campground near the site of that plant in August). The B-24 was the world’s most-produced bomber, multi-engine aircraft, and American military craft in history. The B-24 had a cruising speed of 215 mph (maximum speed of 297 mph) and a range of 1,540 miles. American technological advances by the end of the war (including the development of the B-29 Superfortress, which had a range nearly three times that of the Liberator) made the B-24 obsolete. The fellow in the blue vest at lower right is a docent for the Pima Air & Space Museum; although he’s not a World War II veteran, he had a lot of interesting information to share about the B-24. The youngest of America’s World War II veterans were born around 1927. My family has an interesting history with the B-24: one of my mom’s uncles and one of my dad’s uncles were best friends at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, and flew the Liberator from North Africa together, about 25 years before my parents met.
Here’s another one of my favorites: the North American P-51 Mustang. Before the United States’ official entry into World War II, British military authorities had approached North American to build P-40 Warhawks but the company decided instead to build a more modern aircraft of its own design. A prototype of the P-51 was rolled out about three months after the contract was signed, and the Royal Air Force was flying Mustangs in January 1942. The first Mustangs were underpowered compared to other contemporary fighters, but that problem was rectified when the P-51s were fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. This P-51D had six .50 caliber machine guns rather than the four in earlier versions and could reach an airspeed of 437 mph. More than 15,000 P-51s were built; the last Mustang left U.S. military service in 1957 and the last Mustang left other forces (the Dominican Republic Air Force) in 1984. Nearly 100 Mustangs in private ownership are still flying.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was introduced in 1944, toward the end of World War II, but it certainly left its mark. B-29s carried more bombs, higher, farther, and faster than any other bomber. Superfortresses had a maximum speed of 358 mph, a range of 4,100 miles, and a service ceiling of nearly 32,000 feet. Over 3,000 B-29s were built and many continued to serve not only as bombers, but as reconnaissance planes and fuel tankers, into the early 1950s.This particular Superfortress, serial number 44-70016, served with the 330th Bomb Group and flew a total of 32 combat missions over Japan. It was retired in 1959.
While most of the Pima Air & Space Museum’s collection is devoted to military aircraft, there are plenty of civilian airplanes on display as well – including some suspended from the ceilings of its hangers. This is a Taylorcraft BC-12D, introduced in 1945. It has a maximum speed of 105 mph. My dad, Steve Goering, became a licensed pilot as a young man and has since flown quite a few different fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. A number of years ago he flew a Taylorcraft BC-12 belonging to a family friend. That’s a Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, a helicopter introduced in 1963, behind the Taylorcraft – Dad flew one of those when he first went to Vietnam as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot during his in-country orientation flight in the late 1960s.
The North American F-86 Sabre was the best known aircraft of the United States’ first jet fighters. Design work began as World War II was ending in 1945, and the first prototype flew in August 1947. It was the first swept-wing jet fighter to enter American service, and, in a dive, exceeded Mach 1 – another first for an American aircraft. Sabres had a top level speed of 599 mph, and made their name during the Korean War. Eventually, 25 different countries would use Sabres in their armed forces. This particular model, an F-86E, was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in April 1951. It was first assigned to Japan and then transferred to Korea for the remainder of that war. It was retired in 1959.
The Grumman F-9F Cougar was originally envisioned to simply be a swept-wing version of the F-9F Panther, one of the first carrier-based fighters in the U.S. Navy, but despite retaining the F-9 designation it was a different aircraft altogether. The new design gave the Navy an aircraft capable of competing with the Soviet Union’s swept-wing MiG-15 aircraft, which was very effective in the skies over Korea. Grumman delivered the first F-9F Cougars in December 1952. This aircraft, an F9F-8P photo reconnaissance model, had a top level speed of 637 mph – still subsonic, but fast enough to compare with the MiG-15. In 1954, a U.S. Navy pilot set the transcontinental crossing speed record in a Cougar, completing the 2,438-mile flight in just over 3 hours and 45 minutes – it was the first time that the distance had been covered in less than 4 hours. Grumman produced almost 2,000 F-9F Cougars; the last Cougar was retired in 1974.
Introduced in 1958, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois is perhaps the most-recognized helicopter in the world. Versions of the Huey (the nickname is derived from the original U.S. Army designation of HU-1, and it’s certainly better known than “Iroquois”) remain in both military and civilian service today. More than 16,000 Hueys have been built since its introduction. Each branch of the U.S. military had its own version of the Iroquois by the mid-1960s, and the helicopter is perhaps best known for its use by the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a gunship, as well as cargo transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and other operations. The Army used 7,000 Hueys during its operations in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. The first Iroquois had a maximum speed of 127 mph and its various armaments included 7.62mm machine guns and 70mm rocket pods. My dad flew UH-1s as an Army instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he was an instructor; as well as in operations at Wertheim Army Airfield, West Germany; and at Fort Carson, Colorado. The particular UH-1 shown is from the 174th Assault Helicopter Company, deployed at Duc Pho in Quang Ngai Province from 1967-1970. The 174th was a sister unit of my dad’s F Troop, 8th Cavalry Regiment at Chu Lai, about 40 miles from the 174th. While at the museum I saw a few men my dad’s age walking slowly around this Huey – their memories were their own, but they were almost palpable.
This exhibit shows a variety of memorabilia from Vietnam-era helicopter operations. The U.S. Army Air Cavalry reintroduced the Stetson hat (to the left of the shirt) during the Vietnam War, and the Stetson hat is still worn during the Air Cavalry’s military ceremonies. The hats were originally worn beginning in the 1870s by U.S. Cavalry soldiers. The helmet, at right of the shirt, is a Gentex APH-5A worn by U.S. Army flight crew. The flashlight below the helmet is an Army-issued angle-head model. That’s a model of the Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe helicopter to the left of the flashlight, along with a model of a mobile field hospital. In the center is a U.S. Army M60D 7.62mm machine gun, as mounted on U.S. Army helicopters. This display brought back a lot of memories for me (well, not so much the M60, but the shirt, helmet, and flashlight certainly did).
The neat thing about a lot of aircraft museums is the range of technology on display. The first aircraft you see when entering the main hanger is a reproduction of a Wright Flyer, which the Wright brothers flew a few feet above the North Carolina sand dunes in 1903 with a top speed of 30 mph. Then there’s this Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, introduced in 1966 and with a top speed of 2,200 mph and a service ceiling of 16 miles above the Earth. Sixty-three years isn’t that much time, but look how far aviation advanced in that period. We’d put men on the moon and bring them back to Earth 66 years after the Wright Flyer took off. The Blackbird could fly across the transcontinental United States in a little over an hour – it took the F-9F Cougar 3 hours and 45 minutes to do that only 12 years earlier. I haven’t asked Dad, but I’m pretty sure that he has no hours flying the Blackbird; even if he did, he probably couldn’t tell me.
Here’s an aircraft that my dad did fly. The Bell AH-1 Cobra was originally conceived as a private venture, but Bell shifted its production of the helicopter to support wartime efforts in Vietnam and the Cobra was in the air over Vietnam by 1966. Although it doesn’t look much like the Iroquois, the Cobra and UH-1 have more than 80 percent of their parts in common. The Cobra has a top level speed of 141 mph, and was originally armed with two 7.62mm multi-barrel Miniguns or two 50mm grenade launchers, or one of both, along with either 7 or 19 70mm rockets, depending on the model of rocket launcher. Both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps continue to use modernized versions of the Cobra in their operations. This Bell AH-1S Cobra is close to the AH-1G my dad flew in Vietnam; the AH-1G is the original production model, and the AH-1S has an upgraded engine to the AH-1G.

Even if it represents a smaller percentage of its total collection, the aircraft inside the hangers of the Pima Air & Space Museum are truly impressive. They’re historic, they’re beautiful, and some of them are terrifyingly efficient at what they were designed to do. There were dozens of other aircraft that I didn’t include in this posting: a McDonnell FH-1 Phantom, a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, a Hawker Hurricane, a Grumman F-11 Tiger, a Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt … the list of aircraft just under a roof at this museum is incredible. Seeing a Huey up-close again, as well as other aircraft that my dad has flown, was really rewarding. Here’s a fun fact: my birth in June 1969 was induced a few days early so Dad could see me before leaving for Vietnam. I was born in McPherson, Kansas, where my two great-uncles (the B-24 Liberator crewmen) were friends a quarter-century before I was born.

In another post, we’ll return to the Pima Air & Space Museum and take a look at the aircraft outside the hangers (some of which my dad has also flown).

Lake Cochise

February 19, 2022 – Willcox, Arizona

In arid areas like southeastern Arizona, water is especially important. Not least of all is its ability to support wildlife, and a wide range of it. Lake Cochise, just east of the town of Willcox, is one of the biggest bodies of water in the region. Located in the Sulphur Springs Valley, an 80-mile-long region stretching from north of Willcox to the Arizona-Mexico border, the lake supports a number of different species of birds and other animals throughout the year. Nancy and Gunther and I visited Lake Cochise in mid-February.

It’s difficult to say how many sandhill cranes we saw at Lake Cochise, but I’m comfortable (and not exaggerating) with the number of 10,000. They circled overhead in groups by the many hundreds before landing on the shores of the lake.
Sandhill cranes are generally gray in color, with black legs and bill. Adults have red foreheads, and may stand up to five feet tall and weigh between 10 and 14 pounds when mature.

The town of Willcox hosts an annual event each January, Wings Over Willcox, that attracts bird enthusiasts from around the world. In one year, attendees saw 146 different species of birds, ranging from great horned owls to chipping sparrows.

However, Lake Cochise is best known as a primary winter stop for migratory sandhill cranes. Many thousands of cranes spend the winter each year around the lake, with the highest populations present between the months of November and February. In 2008, the Arizona Game & Fish Department counted more than 36,000 sandhill cranes in the area – the highest number ever recorded.

Adult sandhill cranes have a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet. This group is flying in front of the Dos Cabezas (Spanish for “two heads”) rock formation.

Two groups of cranes spend the winter in the Sulphur Springs Valley: the Rocky Mountain and Mid-Continent populations. The Rocky Mountain group has about 20,000 birds and nests in Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Alberta, Canada. This is the population that has a major migration stopover in Colorado’s San Luis Valley; the town of Monte Vista has its own crane festival each year to commemorate the event.

Sandhill cranes are very vocal birds – their distinctive call can be heard more than a mile away. During our stay in Willcox, we’d hear them calling while flying overhead most of the day.
Here’s an audio file, courtesy of the National Park Service, that gives an idea of what sandhill cranes sound like.
The cranes approached the lake in groups as small as three, and in flocks numbering in the hundreds. There are a number of recognized names for a group of cranes, including “a construction of cranes,” along with “dance,” “sedge,” “siege,” and “swoop.”

The Mid-Continent population of sandhill cranes has about half a million birds and nests in northern Canada and Siberia. This population has a major migration stopover in the Platte River Valley near Kearney, Nebraska. That town, too, has a festival each year – Nancy and I enjoyed a visit there some years ago where we were first introduced to sandhill cranes from an Audubon Society blind next to the river. We also saw and heard sandhill cranes during our stays last year in Albuquerque through Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The town has placed blinds around Lake Cochise so that enthusiastic birders like the one shown, with her ill-behaved dog, can enjoy the wildlife without disturbing the birds.
While many other people brought their dogs as well, this woman brought a couple of goats to spend a pleasant morning at the lake.
There were So. Many. Cranes. They usually spend the night at the lake, then fly off to spend the middle of the day foraging in fields in the area, and then return to the lake in the evening.
Not counting the sandhill cranes, a species we’d seen earlier in the year, we saw five new bird species that morning we hadn’t seen yet in 2022. The lake attracts many other waterfowl as well. Here’s a magnificent northern shoveler drake. He spent most of his time on the water with his head submerged, shoveling about, so I was fortunate to get this photo.
Here’s a pretty American wigeon hen. We also saw buffleheads and coots, but I didn’t get any decent photos of them.
I hadn’t seen a savannah sparrow before. I couldn’t get this one to look my way, but it’s still a very pretty little bird.
Again. So. Many. Cranes.

We had a great time at Lake Cochise, and we encourage everyone to attend a sandhill crane festival if one’s about — the cranes are a lot of fun to watch, and there are always other species to enjoy if cranes aren’t your thing.

Chiricahua National Monument

February 13, 2022 – 35 miles southeast of Willcox, Arizona

The Chiricahua Apache culture entered what is now the southwestern United States sometime between the years 1400 and 1500. They were nomadic, moving with the seasons as hunting and farming conditions changed. Being a warrior was a sacred honor for both genders of Apaches. They began training at a young age, and worked to reach a peak level of physical training. The warriors were trained to become completely still and disappear into their surroundings. The coming-of-age test for a warrior was to run for two straight days with no food or sleep.

The Apache Wars, which began in 1849 when white emigrants began moving through the region and ended in 1886 with the surrender of Geronimo and his followers, ended the Chiricahua historic way of life. The Native Americans were removed to reservations in Oklahoma and Florida, and Geronimo died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909. In 1913, the Apaches were no longer considered prisoners of war by the U.S. government and about two-thirds (only 183 individuals) moved from Fort Sill to the Mescalero Apache Reservation, which had opened itself to other bands of Apache, in south-central New Mexico just east of the present-day White Sands Missile Range. The rest, less than 80, remained in Fort Sill; the descendants of both groups still live in those respective areas today.

The drive from the monument’s visitor center to Massai Point, one of the monument’s higher points and the location of a number of hiking trailheads, gives an idea of the nature of the rock pinnacles.

Chiricahua National Monument, established in 1924 about 35 miles southeast of Willcox, Ariz., was part of the Apache band’s homeland. Today it’s a federally protected area measuring just under 20 square miles in area containing forested slopes, incredible rock formations, and sweeping vistas of southeast Arizona. Nancy and I visited the monument on Feb. 13, 2022. Since dogs aren’t allowed on the monument’s trails, Gunther took a break from sightseeing for the day.

The monument’s rock formations are the result of eruptions 28 million years ago from the Turkey Creek Volcano, the 12-mile-wide caldera of which is in the mountains on the horizon 10 miles away from this viewpoint. This photo was taken from Massai Point, looking to the southeast.

Perhaps the monument’s most famous features are its rock columns, resulting from a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred 27 million years ago from a magma chamber south of the present monument. During the eruptions, immense quantities of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and molten rock were thrust into the atmosphere. Other eruptions caused flows of gas and ash to flow down the volcanic slopes at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. When the eruptions subsided, more than 1,200 square miles of land was covered with thousands of feet of ash. The deposits, called tuff, compressed and cooled over the ensuing years to form a rock called rhyolite.

This view, to the northwest from Massai Point, includes the large rounded mountain at right-center called Sugarloaf. At 7,310 feet, it’s the tallest accessible point in Chiricahua National Monument. Sugarloaf has thick layers of fragmented rock capped with hard lava. It might be hard to imagine, but all of the rocky area 2,000 feet below Sugarloaf was once a solid layer of rock all at the level of the top of that mountain. A variety of erosional actions, some more active than others, over the 28 million years since the eruptions have caused the lowering of the elevation and the fantastic carved rock columns. There’s a fire lookout, staffed during the hottest months of the season, at the top of Sugarloaf.

This is a mountain called Cochise Head, from a viewpoint looking northeast from Massai Point. It’s said to resemble the rugged face of a Chiricahua lying on his back. Fort Bowie National Historic Site, which we visited the previous weekend, is just on the other side of this rock profile.

Here’s a view to the northeast of Massai Point, with Harris Mountain in the middle of the wide desert San Simon Valley. The Harris family had been part of a wagon train moving west in 1873. The family attempted to take a shortcut through these Chiricahua Mountains and disappeared. Several years later, soldiers from Fort Bowie found one of the Harris girls in an Apache camp in Mexico. The girl related the story of a Native American attack and led the soldiers to the spot at Harris Mountain where the rest of her family had been killed. The soldiers found the bones of the Harris family and buried the remains.
One last image from Massai Point: this is another view to the southwest. We were fortunate to visit on a clear day, because we could see the location of Cochise Stronghold (a sanctuary for the Chiricahua chief and his final resting place) 40 miles away, as well as Rincon Peak (elevation 8.482 feet) and Mica Mountain (elevation 8,666 feet) in Saguaro National Park near Tucson (which we’d visit in a few days after Chiricahua National Monument). The 23-mile-wide Sulphur Springs Valley is between Chiricahua and the closest mountains.

Let’s get back to rocks: the pinnacles in Chiricahua National Monument are formed by erosion. Cooling and uplift of the rocks formed cracks and joints in the tuff. Over millennia of weathering from ice wedging and water erosion, the cracks widened and weaker materials washed away to leave spires of rock. Here’s an interactive exercise: hold up your hand in front of you with your fingers straight and close together (go on: it’s fun!) Imagine that your closed fingers are a wall of volcanic rock, with your fingers separated by joints in the rock. Now slowly separate your fingers, as millions of years pass and countless freeze and thawing cycles of ice, as well as other erosional actions, wear down the rocks between your digits. Congratulations: you’ve created rock spires – told you it was fun.

The pinnacles were later smoothed by wind, chemical action, and further water freezing and thawing over the last 10,000 years to their smooth and rounded shapes. Here we see an intrepid hiker (it very well be Nancy) making her way toward the columns on a trail called the Echo Canyon Loop.

We went on a 5-mile loop hike from Massai Point that dropped about 1,000 feet into Echo Canyon. It was an incredible hike that allowed us to walk among the pinnacles, as well as see wonderful views and a variety of plants and wildlife.

When the flows of hot ash settled to the earth, the heat they contained, combined with the immense pressure of layer after layer of ash, welded the material into solid rock. That welding action wasn’t always enough to transform the ash into solids; some layers cooled too quickly to weld together, and remained softer than other areas. There’s a hiker (in purple on the left) behind this column to give a sense of scale; also note the evergreen shrub growing out of the top of this column. Many years ago, the seed of that shrub was dropped into a crevice in the top of the rock (perhaps by a bird or a breeze); the seed germinated and the roots of that growing shrub are now helping to expand the crevice even further. We saw many cases of that happening: grasses, shrubs, cacti, and trees, growing in loose material in rocks and those plants’ roots helping to slowly but surely break those rocks apart, especially as rainfall and snowmelt freezes and expands in the crevices.
Those layers in the rocks are seen in this photo. Also note the green material that’s on the rocks (and seemingly every other rock in the monument).
Here’s a closeup of that green material: lichen, along with several other different-colored varieties. Lichen, too, is an erosive factor for rocks. Lichen is a plant-like composite organism (but not a plant) that attaches to rocks and organic materials like tree trunks. In their very slow growth cycle, they release weak acids that contribute, day by day over the centuries, to the breakdown of rocks.
There are about 20,000 species of lichen in the world, and there are at least four of them in this picture. I have a hard enough time remembering how to tell sparrows apart and I’m not about to try learn how to identify lichen (but I like ’em)!

We got a really good sense of just what nature is capable of doing, given enough time, during this hike. I was especially struck by how some rocks have broken off, through erosion, from their original formations but didn’t end up on the ground.

Check out the placement of the rocks at the top of the column on the left: the larger rock at the top right of the column is probably seven or eight feet long. There’s no way these were placed by people.
It’s just crazy.

There were other types of erosion on view as well. Running water can be an incredibly effective factor for erosion, especially given enough time.

This is a rock formation on the trail called “The Grottoes.” The smooth sides of the rock walls in the center of the photo were created by year after year of water running through the opening.
Check out this weathering in the solid rock. A helpful passerby (again, most likely Nancy) provides a sense of scale; like most thoughtful hikers, she’s not actually touching the rock so that others can enjoy this formation for years to come.
Again, just fascinating. I wonder if this and the previous formation were formed by softer materials being caught in the ash flow before it solidified, and then wearing away before the surrounding rock could.

There’s more to enjoy in Chiricahua National Monument in addition to rock formations. The only wildlife we saw was a chatty acorn woodpecker and some acrobatic swallows swerving through the rocks, but we saw a good variety of plants. The varying topography and elevations in the monument lend themselves to supporting a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and other plants.

Here are two species of oak trees growing just a couple of feet apart from each other along the Echo Canyon Trail. The one on the left is netleaf oak (Quercus rugosa) and on the right is silverleaf oak (Quercus hypoleucoides). With enough water, silverleaf can grow up to 60 feet tall. That’s not happening in this desert canyon; both of these were two-feet-high shrubs.
This is narrowleaf four-o’clock, a wild close relative of the four-o’clock annual plant that’s popular in gardens. Four-o’clocks have been cultivated since the time of the Aztecs. I think we were a bit too early to see it in bloom.
Here, though, is a plant in bloom. This purple prairie verbena was attracting a large black butterfly that wouldn’t stay still for a picture.
This is a very common type of cactus called strawberry hedgehog, growing in a rhyolite crevice along the trail. It has pretty fearsome spines.
This was an extraordinarily rewarding hike. We seemed to stop every few paces just to enjoy the formations and views.
We were a little surprised to see this good-sized spring at about the halfway point of our loop hike. It provided a little rivulet of running water further downstream.
Just another example of nature being absolutely wild sometimes. This is a formation of rocks alongside part of the hike called Hailstone Trail. I’d love to find out how these rocks were formed, as well as some of the other atypical formations earlier in the hike. We had a blast at Chiricahua National Monument and will definitely return to get those answers.

Tombstone, Arizona

February 12, 2022

Tombstone is about the same distance from Willcox, Arizona, and from Tucson, the next city we stayed at in Arizona. We decided to make it a day trip from our campsite in Willcox. Neither of us had been to Tombstone before, and Gunther hadn’t, either, so we brought him along.

Tombstone started out as one of thousands of mining towns in the western United States, but it, of course, became famous for its lawlessness. Unlike the majority of those mining towns, it’s still around: precisely because of its reputation dating back to a gunfight 140 years ago that lasted perhaps 30 seconds.

Nancy and I were both rather surprised to see how many people had the same idea as us: there were more people on the streets of Tombstone than we’d seen in a couple of months. Because of the pandemic, we didn’t venture inside any of the buildings but enjoyed a pretty day on Tombstone’s streets.

This is the site of the Oriental Saloon, which was opened in 1880. Wyatt Earp (who wasn’t a marshal at Tombstone; he was deputized by his brother Virgil at the time of the famous gunfight) owned a share of the gaming tables in the Oriental. The original building burned down in an 1881 fire, but the Oriental was rebuilt quickly – just in time to be threatened by a larger fire in 1882. However, the building survived that threat. The Oriental became a drug store when Arizona adopted statewide prohibition in 1914, and has been home to a number of other businesses since then.

Tombstone was founded by Ed Schieffelin, who was briefly a scout for the U.S. Army. Schieffelin spent his free time searching for mineral deposits in the area, looking to strike it rich. The story goes that a friend told Schieffelin that the only rock he’d find would be his own tombstone. In 1877 Schieffelin did indeed find a significant vein of silver not far from the present location of the town; he named his mining claim “Tombstone,” and the name became attached to the town. Other miners were attracted to the area, and by the fall of 1879 several thousand people were living in canvas tents on top of the richest silver strike in Arizona’s history.

The first permanent buildings of Tombstone, no different from most boomtowns in the American West, were largely constructed from wood. As was the case with many of those towns, significant fires took their toll. What that means today is that very few of the most famous structures in Tombstone are the actual buildings dating from the 1880s. The first major fire occurred on June 22, 1881, and destroyed 66 businesses in the eastern half of the town’s business district. Less than a year later, a large fire on May 25, 1882, destroyed more than 100 businesses in Tombstone, including the O.K. Corral.

Unlike many buildings in Tombstone, the Bird Cage Theatre is original. It was built in 1881, and, after the fire that year, was one of only two theaters in the town. It operated as a first-class variety theater, bringing professional entertainers to Tombstone. It closed as a theater in 1892 and was, for many years, a museum.
This is the site of the famous gunfight that occurred Oct. 26, 1881. It was a vacant lot near, but not in or at, the O.K. Corral. The gunplay, part of a simmering feud that involved politics and families, involved Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers and temporary deputies Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc Holliday, versus the Clanton and McLaury families. The Earp family left Arizona in early 1882. There are at least two different recreated gunfights in Tombstone. It’s our understanding that the town used to have recreated gunfights in the street, but those are no longer conducted: everything’s inside a building now, and a paid ticket is needed.

At the height of the silver boom, Tombstone had a population of about 10,000 people. It was a very wealthy city, and could offer world-class entertainment and foods that were impossible to find elsewhere in the West. By 1881, there were four churches, three newspapers (including the gloriously named “Tombstone Epitaph”), two banks, and 110 saloons. After the mining claims played out, Tombstone’s population dwindled to the point that it nearly became a ghost town. Only the fact that it remained the seat of Cochise County saved it from disappearing completely. In 1929, the citizens of Cochise County voted to move the county seat to Bisbee, about 20 miles south of Tombstone.

This is the Cochise County Courthouse, which was completed in January 1883 at a cost of $43,000. After the county seat was moved to Bisbee, an effort was made to convert this building to a hotel but that project was never completed. The city donated the building to the Arizona State Park Board in 1959, and the former courthouse because Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park in 1960. A sign near the building states that the eaves on the courthouse serve as homes to colonies of Mexican free-tail and big brown bats. Their droppings, however, destroy the wood of the building. Arizona State Parks is working to exclude the bats from the courthouse, but any measures to do so must allow the bats to leave without allowing them to return, and, because of the historic designation of the building, can’t permanently alter the courthouse.

Today, Tombstone is definitely devoted to tourism. About 450,000 people visit this small town each year – that’s almost 350 visitors for every resident of Tombstone (current population: 1,300). For perspective, 42 million people visited Las Vegas, Nevada, (current population: 642,000) in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, which is 65 tourists for every Las Vegan.

Tombstone has several horsedrawn coaches going up and down its streets. As soon as we approached the street, Gunther started barking at the horses – we didn’t realize until then that he’d never been close to one. He calmed down after a while, and toward the end of our visit was fine with being around his new horse friends.

Our trip to Tombstone was enjoyable enough. It certainly gave Gunther an opportunity to expand his horizons a bit; I don’t think we’ll return, but we’re glad we went.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

13 miles south of Bowie, Arizona – February 6, 2022

Apache Pass is a natural low geologic divide in southeast Arizona separating the Dos Cabezas (Spanish for “two heads”; see more below) Mountains from the much larger Chiricahua (pr. “cheer-uh-cah-wah”) mountain range. Apache Spring, a year-round source of flowing water near the pass, is the main reason many thousands of people traversed the pass beginning in 1848 through the end of the U.S. Army’s conflicts with Native Americans in the mid-1880s. Horses and people needed water to keep moving, and Apache Spring was the only dependable source of water for many miles. From the end of the Mexican War in 1848 through the end of the Apache Wars (1862-1886), Apache Pass provided a corridor for travelers between El Paso and Tucson. Once the southern route of the intercontinental railroad was completed in 1880, the pass became less important for travelers and commerce since trains weren’t as dependent on water as horses were. Until then, Apache Pass was an important point in the expansion of the American west: many thousands of people and great tonnages of goods found their way to the West by traversing the pass.

Chiricahua Apaches lived in this area for many years prior to other cultures entering the Apache Pass region. The pass was identified by both Spanish and, later, Mexican forces during their respective control of the area in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Many Anglos first used Apache Pass on their way to the California gold fields in 1849. In 1858, the U.S. Congress authorized the development of an overland mail route, operated by the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. In operation between 1851 and 1861, the Butterfield route took advantage of Apache Spring to water its horses.

Apache Pass was also the site of the Bascom Affair, a conflict between Chiricahua leader Cochise’s band of Apaches and the U.S. Army in 1861. The Bascom Affair was the beginning of a decade of conflict between the Chiricahua and the Army, and led to the development of Fort Bowie to protect travelers using the pass and spring.

In 1872 the U.S. government struck a peace accord with the Apaches, establishing the Chiricahua Apache Reservation. For four years things went pretty smoothly, but the Apaches began to flee the reservation and conduct raiding parties into Mexico; the military presence in the pass subsequently increased. Geronimo eventually surrendered to the Army in 1886. Between the removal of the Native Americans and the completion of the railroad, the need for the U.S. military in the pass disappeared. Fort Bowie’s last garrison left the fort in 1894.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site, declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and located about 35 miles from Willcox,, preserves some of the building ruins and other features of a U.S. Army outpost built in the 1860s to protect travelers using Apache Pass from Native American attacks. In addition to fort ruins, this 1,000-acre site also features a number of other interesting historical areas, all of which are accessible by a 1.5-mile hike from the parking lot to the site’s visitor center.

Nancy and Gunther and I visited Fort Bowie National Historic Site in early February. It was an immensely rewarding experience, from both a historical perspective as well as a natural history view.

The site is unique in that visitors are encouraged to hike 1.5 miles to the visitor center rather than simply driving to a visitor center parking lot and then hiking from there; it’s certainly possible to drive to the center and park, but you’d miss out on a lot of natural and historical points of interest.

One of the first historic stops on the trail is this view of the camp site for a survey party led by Lt. John Parke of the Topographical Engineer Corps in March of 1854. The party, searching for an all-weather route for a transcontinental railroad, had marched 55 miles through the desert prior to reaching Apache Pass and the spring. The men rested at this spot for two days, enjoying both easy access to water and the companionship of the then-friendly Apaches. Parke would find an easier route for a railroad to the north of the pass, and the rail line was completed in 1880. The route, which passes between present-day Willcox and Bowie, is still in use today; there was puh-lenty of railroad traffic passing through Willcox while we stayed there.

The Bascom Affair

The next significant event, from an Anglo perspective, in the Apache Pass region occurred in January, 1861. A boy named Felix Martinez Ward was kidnapped by Apaches when the Native Americans raided the Ward family ranch. Lieutenant George Bascom was put in charge of the U.S. Army’s effort to find the boy. Bascom arrived in the Apache Pass area on Feb. 4, 1861, with a detachment of 54 men and camped in the area shown above. Cochise, the famous Chiricahua Apache chief, was invited to meet with Bascom. The young lieutenant accused Cochise of kidnapping Felix Martinez Ward, and Cochise denied the claim. Nevertheless, Bascom ordered that Cochise and his party be held hostage.
The Bascom camp was just on this side of the hill shown above. Cochise escaped from the tent in which he’d been held and ran up the hillside. Cochise used a knife that he’d hidden to cut through the tent’s fabric; Cochise’s action is still remembered as “Cut the Tent” by the Apache today. The other Chiricahua, including members of Cochise’s family, were recaptured by U.S. forces. Bascom moved his detachment to a stage station nearby and fortified that building, apprehensive about what might occur during the night.
These are the ruins of the Butterfield stage stop where Bascom and his soldiers sought refuge. Built in July 1858, the station had walls that reached up to 8 feet high. The morning after Cochise escaped, Apache warriors approached the station and told Bascom that Cochise wanted to talk. The meeting progressed for about half an hour before ending abruptly; one of the station workers had been captured by the Native Americans. Shots were fired and in the following weeks Cochise took more captives, attempting to exchange them for his family and other warriors held by the U.S. Army. Those talks failed as well, and Cochise killed the hostages; the Army retaliated by killing the Apaches in their custody.

The Bascom Affair ignited more than 20 years of conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the United States government. Significantly, Felix Martinez Ward had indeed been kidnapped by Apaches but not by Cochise’s Chiricahua. He was raised among the White Mountain Apache and, as an adult, became a scout and interpreter for the U.S. Army.

The Butterfield Overland Mail route passed through the center of the area shown in this photo (I think the trail is a modern hiking one, not a remnant of the stage trail) and passed by the stage stop. In 1857, the U.S. government awarded John Butterfield a contract to carry mail between St. Louis and San Francisco. The stage coaches took 25 days to complete the 2,500-mile route. The Chiricahuas permitted the passage of the stages for two years; in exchange for gifts, the Apaches provided firewood for the stage station. Butterfield used smaller mule-driven coaches for this mountainous stage of the route, as opposed to larger horse-driven coaches on either end of the line.

The company received $600,000 per year to carry the mail between St. Louis and San Francisco. Butterfield started with 2,000 employees, more than 250 coaches, nearly 2,000 horses and mules, and 240 stage stations along the route.

After the stage stop ruins, the next stop along the trail is the post cemetery for Fort Bowie.

The cemetery actually predates the fort, as some U.S. Army soldiers were buried here in 1862. In addition to soldiers, the cemetery held the remains of the soldiers’ families, civilians, emigrants, mail carriers, and three Apache children, one of whom was Geronimo’s two-year-old son. About a half-year after the closure of Fort Bowie, most of the remains were reinterred at the San Francisco National Cemetery. However, the graves of 23 civilians are still here.

The next significant stop on the trail to the visitor center is the ruins of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency.

Cochise died of natural causes in 1874 on the Chiricahua Reservation. Before his death he’d befriended a U.S. Indian agent named Thomas Jeffords, who governed almost a thousand Apaches from this agency from 1875-1876. The U.S. government removed Jeffords from this agency in June 1876 and relocated 325 Apaches north to the San Carlos Reservation. Many of the Chiricahua fled the reservation, however, and resumed hostilities with Anglos that would continue for another decade. The ruins of this agency were excavated in 1984. The building had three rooms, each with its own fireplace, and wood floors. National Park Service conservators have stabilized the ruins with plaster to slow their erosion; an ill-behaved dog at right provides a sense of scale.

A recreation of an Apache camp is a little ways further down the trail. The surrounding area, although rocky and mountainous, provided everything that the Chiricahua needed to make their home here: water from Apache Spring, wild game, edible plants, and materials for building shelter, weapons, and tools. The Chiricahua culture centered around the wife’s extended family; after marriage, the husband entered into the family and committed to supporting his wife’s relatives. While the men hunted and participated in raiding expeditions, the women maintained the wild food crops.

The camps consisted of small groups of several wickiups, built from a pole framework and covered with long grass and animal hides, like this one. Because of inconsistent food supplies and threats of enemy attack, the camps were not permanent and the Apaches moved often. Here we see a big baby absolutely terrified of what unimaginable horrors might wait in the dark depths of the wickiup recreation (there was nothing, as it turned out), accompanied by Nancy.
We got Gunther as an eight-week-old puppy in early November 2019, just a couple of months before the pandemic started, so he grew up in the last couple of years not having a whole lot of exposure to new experiences. For instance, we were made to realize he’d never been very close to horses when we went to Tombstone a few days after this hike. Once he gets used to new things, he’s generally okay with them. He gets along great with other dogs and people (and horses, once he’s seen one). He’s a really good dog, although I think he prefers hikes that have a lot more walking and a lot fewer opportunities to learn about history than this one did.

The Battle of Apache Pass

In mid-July, 1862, a guard of about 100 California Volunteers marched through Apache Pass toward the San Simon River in order to build a supply depot in that area. When the column approached the Butterfield stage station, which had by then been abandoned, it was attacked by Cochise, his ally Mangas Coloradas, and about 150 Apache warriors. The Californians drove the Apaches into the hills shown above, only to find that the Native Americans had taken up new positions around Apache Spring. After another attack, the Californians finally reached the spring and drove the Apaches away once again. The Battle of Apache Pass, July 15-16, 1862, led to the establishment of Fort Bowie.

We were on this trail in early February and were plenty warm; I cannot imagine what it would have been like to engage in battle with Apaches in mid-July, and while trying to fight your way to water.

Apache Spring

This is what all the deadly fighting over the decades at this site was about: Apache Spring, the only year-round source of water in the region. Archeologists have found pottery fragments around the spring that suggest the Mogollon Native Americans were here many years before the Apache came to this area.
Apache Spring averages a flow of about 5 gallons per minute, but that can vary significantly depending on the time of year and recent precipitation amounts. It’s not a big outflow, but it’s wet and that’s all that matters. This little rivulet a few yards from the mouth of the spring is about a foot wide. Fort Bowie is a quarter-mile further down the trail.

The First Fort Bowie

A 500-yard spur from the main hiking trail leads to these ruins of the first Fort Bowie. Construction started in July 1862 following the Battle of Apache Pass and the U.S. Army’s control of Apache Spring. A 100-man detachment of the 5th California Volunteer Infantry, under the command of Col. George Washington Bowie, completed the fort in two weeks. Incidentally, this instance of “Bowie” is pronounced “BOO-ee,” not “BOH-ee.” Also, that tree growing in the middle of the ruins is a catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii). Its Apache name is “ch’il gohigise,” which means “a bush that scratches you.” It has very sharp and claw-like thorns, but its seed pods were a significant food source for the Apache and they used the wood to make furniture and drumsticks. Bees are attracted to the catclaw’s blossoms and make a very distinctive honey.
Although the Apaches didn’t control the water at Apache Spring any longer, they continued to attack travelers that weren’t being protected by the U.S. Army as they traversed Apache Pass. This first fort was only in use for six years as the California Volunteers pursued the Apaches with little success. It was apparently not an enviable duty post because of the extraordinary isolation, constant illness, poor living conditions, and consistent threat of Native American attack. I’d think, however, that the original builders would be pleased to know that the walls they constructed are still standing, in the heat of the Arizona sun, 160 years later. Regular U.S. Army soldiers relieved the volunteers in 1866 and began construction of the new Fort Bowie, 300 yards northeast of this location.
This picture was taken looking to the southwest of the hill on which the first Fort Bowie was built; I’ve indicated the locations of several stops on the trail. The location of Apache Spring is not in this photo; it’s to the right of the area shown in the picture. The prominent mountain in the background is Government Peak, elevation 7,556 feet.
As we approached the visitor center, we encountered a herd of 10-12 mule deer about 100 yards away. They gradually made their way up the opposite hillside, blending really effectively into the rocks and brush of the area.
This is the visitor center for the Fort Bowie National Historic Site. At the end of the 1.5-mile hike, it’s an impressive structure that overlooks the site of the second Fort Bowie, and has a wonderful wraparound patio with plenty of rocking chairs and benches from which to admire the view. The building contains artifacts from the fort and other items representative of military life in the late 19th century; we didn’t spend much time in the building because due to Covid concerns NPS was understandably limiting how many people could be inside at the same time. That’s what is left of the fort’s armory on the left side of the image, well removed from the original site of the fort itself.
Like the Indian agency from down the trail, there’s not much remaining of Fort Bowie. The mounds you see in the middle foreground are walls of the fort’s buildings that have been covered in plaster by NPS conservators in an attempt to preserve as much of the original construction as possible. This picture is taken from in front of the visitor center, looking to the northeast.
This is a picture of a picture of Fort Bowie from January 1894, at the height of its presence at Apache Pass. For a perspective, the angular hill at the top left of the previous photo is the same one at the top center of this one. The tall building on the right side of the photo comprise the commanding officer’s quarters and in front of that structure are the officers’ quarters. The hospital is to the left and up the hillside a bit from the CO’s quarters. The low buildings at left are the corrals and stables; behind those are the ice machine and steam engine. In total, there are about 38 buildings in this photo. With the Apache Wars ending after Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886, the Army occupied Fort Bowie for eight more years. The U.S. Army abandoned Fort Bowie nine months after this original photo was taken. Area residents stripped the wood from the buildings for their own uses, and all that was left were adobe walls.
Here’s a view over the ruins looking southeast from the visitor center’s railed porch, where Nancy and I sat on rocking chairs while enjoying a picnic lunch. Gunther collapsed in the shade of the porch. Some of the fort’s ruins can be seen in the mid-foreground as light tan mounds. You may have noticed the prominent rock formation in the background in previous photos; it is called Helen’s Dome, elevation 6,376 feet. The granite peak is reportedly named after the wife of an officer at Fort Bowie, and served as an important landmark for travelers approaching Apache Pass.

After the visitors center, hikers can either retrace their steps back to the trailhead’s parking lot or use an alternate route that provides a different perspective on the surrounding area. We chose the latter.

This spectacular view shows the valley of the eastern approach to Apache Pass and the Peloncillo (Spanish for “little baldy”) Range, 35 miles away on the horizon, and just beyond those mountains lies the New Mexico/Arizona border.

We also decided to drive back to The Goddard by a different route, making a loop between Willcox and Bowie on either end. It gave us a chance to see some different country, and I’m glad that we did.

This is the rock formation that gives the Dos Cabezas (“two heads” in Spanish) Mountains their name. It doesn’t take much imagination to see faces in the rocks, especially the one on the left. This formation is about 15 miles due west of Willcox; it’s easily visible from the town (I enjoyed watching the colors of the setting sun on the formation while playing with Gunther in the campground’s dog run), but this perspective from the opposite side definitely shows you why it’s named what it is.
We also passed this red-tailed hawk, perched on a roadside fencepost, on the way back to Willcox. It let me take five or six pictures before taking off. That’s snow-covered Mount Graham in the background, but from the opposite side of where we saw it while staying in Safford, Arizona.

We really enjoyed Fort Bowie National Historic Site. This was a “the journey is the destination” sort of experience — while it was interesting to see the ruins of the actual fort, the hike to those ruins, and the natural and cultural historic points we saw, was more rewarding. Hiking in the same paths that Cochise and Geronimo once walked, and learning more about the conflicts between the Chiricahua who lived here and the U.S. Army, is something that we’ll always remember.

Did You Know / Did You Care #6

When we traveled to Arizona from New Mexico in late January of this year, we noticed a lot of very tall and very thin pine trees growing next to buildings (as in, just inches away from them), and also grown close together as natural windbreaks or privacy fences. They are called pencil pines, and they are a cultivar of a species of cypress tree called Cupressus sempervirens.

Did you know / did you care that this cultivar was developed from trees native to the Mediterranean region of western Europe? The same conditions in Italy and Greece can be found in some parts of the American southwest, and the cultivars are very popular in Arizona’s arid and hot climate.

Our campground in Willcox, Arizona, had a single pencil pine planted next to each campsite.

In addition to providing protection from wind and prying eyes (when planted in close proximity), pencil pines, we were to discover, also serve as great habitat for a wide variety of songbirds. Their dense foliage and impressive height – up to 110 feet – provide plenty of safe nesting and perching spaces for our feathered friends.

I took this photo of a house sparrow (a very common bird around the entire country) from a window inside The Goddard. It was perched in the pencil pine planted next to our front door (the one at far left in the photo of The Goddard above).
Here’s another common bird, a house finch, perched in the same tree. This photo was taken in the late evening from below the bird. A bonus Did You Know / Did You Care!: house finches are native to the American southwest but some were captured in the 1940s and taken to the East Coast for breeding and to sell as house pets. That practice violated a couple of federal laws, and, in an effort to avoid prosecution, the captors released the birds to the wild. The house finches established wild populations, and now the species is found from coast to coast. The species was also taken to Hawaii in the 1870s and is now found on all of that state’s islands.
Here’s a bird not found from sea to shining sea (and Hawaii): the cactus wren. This guy perched at the very top of a different campsite’s pencil pine and called out almost every morning we were in Willcox. I thought it sounded like a car with a dead battery trying to start (but in a way that’s somewhat more pleasing than what it sounds). The calls last up to four seconds and can be heard a thousand feet away.

Of course, all of this avian activity was of great interest to the feline member of The Goddard’s crew.

Here’s Rusty keeping an eye on the goings-on in the pencil pine outside the door of The Goddard.
We regret not getting the optional extra-wide tread for the steps in our trailer, but we didn’t know that Rusty would be spending so many of his waking hours watching birds from the doorway.

Rex Allen Museum

Willcox, Arizona – February 5, 2022

If asked to name your favorite Rex Allen movie, which film comes to mind first? If you’re like Nancy and me, you’d probably be somewhat reluctant to name one, because you couldn’t name one. The simple truth is, we’d never heard of him. But, as we were to find out, we’d certainly heard him.

Willcox, Arizona, is the hometown of Rex Allen (1920-1999), known as “The Arizona Cowboy” as well as “The Last of the Silver Screen Cowboys.” Allen began his movie career as the public’s love affair with Westerns was turning away from the big screen and transitioning to the newfangled televisions in their living rooms.

The Rex Allen Museum opened in 1989 as a showcase for Allen’s career as a live performer, recording artist, actor, and film narrator. It has many of Allen’s personal belongings dating back to his childhood in Willcox all the way up to his Hollywood career.

I finally managed to take a photo of a car parked outside a museum we visited (I don’t know why I didn’t just walk to the other side of the building and take a photo from there). The Rex Allen Museum is in one of the oldest commercial buildings in Willcox. The adobe building was constructed in the early 1890s and was later home to the Schley Saloon from 1897 to 1919. The museum still has the saloon’s original wooden floor. The Willcox Theater, next door to the museum, was built in 1935 and was where Rex Allen made his singing debut. Roy Rogers, later to be a friend of Allen, also sang at the theater early in his career.

Allen’s family homesteaded on a ranch about 40 miles from Willcox. He played guitar while his father fiddled for audiences in Willcox; after graduating from Willcox High School, Allen joined the rodeo circuit and toured the southwest.

Allen found life as a performing entertainer less painful than that of a rodeo star, and Allen got his singing career started at a Phoenix radio station. Soon after, he made his debut on a show called “National Barn Dance” on Chicago radio station WLS. This is the fiddle Allen used on the show. Note the tooled leather guitar case behind the fiddle.

Allen would have a 35-year singing career with Decca Records, and had a gold record with his version of “Crying in the Chapel.” With singing cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey being very popular with moviegoers in the late 1940s, Republic Pictures signed Rex Allen to a contract in 1949. He would go on to star in 19 Hollywood movies, usually as a character with the very authentic Western name of “Rex Allen.”

The museum has posters from many of the movies that Allen starred in between 1950 and 1954. Every movie cowboy needs a tremendously talented horse, and Allen’s was Koko the Wonder Horse. Koko usually received billing equal to Rex Allen in publicity for their pictures. Every movie cowboy also needs a sidekick; Allen was pardners with Buddy Ebsen and, later, Slim Pickens in various pictures.
Allen was a top-ten box office attraction in his day, and his exploits carried from the big screen to other media like comic books. When you make it big as a Western performer, you get to wear Nudie suits: clothing made by Nuta Kotlyarenko, a Ukraine-born tailor whose professional name was Nudie. He made his mark making rhinestone Western-themed wear for both men and women. Nudie suits were worn by entertainers like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, and Elvis Presley. The leather hat box in the lower right is also a Nudie design; it held Allen’s white Stetson while he was on tour.
San Fernando Saddlery in Van Nuys, California, made this very pretty silver-mounted parade saddle used by Allen.
On the left is another Nudie suit that Allen wore in parades. It’s pretty flashy. On the right is a custom-made shirt; note the closures on the chest pockets. Allen didn’t like buttons on his shirt pockets.
This was an “a-ha” moment for me. Did you ever see those live-action Disney films from the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the ones set in the American West, that featured a very relaxing narrator’s voice that had just a hint of a drawl? Rex Allen was the narrator of movies like “Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar,” and “The Incredible Journey,” and more than 40 other Disney films and television programs. Allen’s voice was also that of 150 different Disney cartoon characters. His Western voice, instantly recognizable, narrated the animated adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web” (which was a Hanna-Barbera production rather than Disney).
In addition to lending his voice to a number of television productions, Allen lent his likeness to promote Ford tractors, Purina animal feed, Tony Lama boots, and other products.
Speaking of Tony Lama, here’s a pair of cowboy boots custom modified for use on the golf course. They’re next to an autoharp given to Rex Allen by June Carter Cash, wife of Johnny Cash.
Speaking of Johnny Cash, here’s a wall of memorabilia featuring people who knew and worked with Rex Allen, including country music superstar Tanya Tucker (under the Man in Black’s illustration), who also grew up in Willcox, Arizona. Next to Tanya’s photo is a picture of John Wayne with Allen, and above that is a picture of The King, and to the right of Elvis is a signed photo of Ken Curtis, who played Festus Hagen in “Gunsmoke.” Speaking of “Gunsmoke,” Allen was a cousin of Glenn Strange, who played Sam the barkeep in Dodge City from 1961 to 1974.
The museum building is also home to the Cowboy Hall of Fame. One of the Hall of Fame exhibits is this display of barbed wire dating from 1874 to 1884, so you know it’s okay in my book.

Willcox still shows a lot of love for its most famous native son. “Rex Allen Days” began in 1951 as an event benefiting the local hospital. It continues each year to this day, attracting Western film aficionados from around the world, and includes a rodeo and the annual Cowboy Hall of Fame induction. One of Willcox’s main streets is called Rex Allen Drive.

This larger-than-life bronze statue of Rex Allen is situated in a park directly across the street from the museum. Koko the Wonder Horse is buried nearby, and Allen’s ashes were scattered in the park upon his death. (The sun, as it is wont to do sometimes, wasn’t cooperative so the lighting isn’t the best.)

Between 1949 and the late 1960s, more than 100 different Western TV series aired on television networks – which was great for fans of “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun, Will Travel” and “Wagon Train,” but not so good for stars of big-screen Western movies. Allen did star in his own short-lived TV series, “Frontier Doctor,” in 1961, but his time as a big-screen star was over. However, he continued to do very well doing off-camera work for Disney and other production houses.

After we visited the museum, Nancy and I could do little else than retreat that evening to The Goddard and watch a Rex Allen movie. We selected “Colorado Sundown” (1952), and do you know what? We liked it a lot. It had a pretty intriguing storyline and some great action crammed into its 67 minutes, and it gave an opportunity for Rex Allen to sing a bit as well. As of now, it’s our favorite Rex Allen movie. Honestly, we’d love to watch another one sometime.

Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

January 30, 2022 – near Safford, Arizona

Riparian areas, or habitat on or near flowing rivers, have historically constituted only 2 percent of the state of Arizona’s landmass. According to the Bureau of Land Management, in the last 200 years almost 95% of that meager acreage has disappeared due to human development from grazing, farming, and diversion projects

The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, located between Safford and Clifton in southeast Arizona, was established in 1990 to protect 23,000 acres (about 36 square miles) of wildland river habitat and the surrounding area.

This photo is from an overlook above the Gila River as it briefly splits before rejoining downriver, looking to the southeast. The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area has plenty of very long vistas of natural spaces. The section of the Gila River that runs through the NCA is a very popular destination for kayakers, canoeists, and rafters during high-flow season, and there are several developed areas along the river for putting in and taking out watercraft.

The word “Gila” is found in many, many placenames and other references in New Mexico and Arizona, and it’s thought to be derived from a Spanish contraction of “Hah-quah-sa-eel,” which is a Yuma Native American word that means “running water which is salty.” The river starts near Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and flows almost 650 miles along an watershed of nearly 60,000 square miles in the two states before emptying into the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona, where the Colorado forms the state’s western border with California..

The Gila Box Riparian NCA includes more than 20 miles of the Gila River as well as sections of three other waterways that flow year-round in southeast Arizona. Gila Box is one of only two riparian NCAs in the United States; the other is San Pedro Riparian NCA, located in extreme southeastern Arizona along the border with Mexico.

The waterways provide food, shelter, and water for a huge variety of wildlife, including fish, mammals, and birds as well as invertebrates.

The importance of preserving these lands can be seen in the variety of animals that call Gila Box home, including at least:

  • 175 permanent and migratory bird species
  • 42 mammal species, including bighorn sheep, black bear, javelina, mountain lion, and cougar
  • 24 reptile species
  • 17 fish species, including the endangered Gila chub and razorback sucker
  • and 10 amphibian species.
This is Bonita Creek, which flows southeast from the San Carlos Apache Reservation, now home to about 10,000 Apache, northwest of the National Conservation Area to enter the Gila River near the NCA’s western edge. This riparian environment is certainly atypical habitat for the mostly desert state of Arizona: Fremont cottonwood, Goodding’s willow, and Arizona sycamore trees are prevalent along with uncommon large bosques of mesquite, which is a very common tree/shrub in the drier areas of the desert but there grows in sparser groupings.
One of these days I’ll stop being surprised at seeing blooming flowers in January, but today was not that day. This is a plant called brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), which has several interesting characteristics: it derives its name from having very fragile stems; depending on where in the stem the sap is collected the sap can be used as a glue or as a resin to hold seal pottery vessels; or the sap can be melted to use as a varnish. There were a lot of bees collecting pollen from this plant.
It’s difficult to be sure, but I’m fairly certain this raptor is a redtailed hawk perched on an ocotillo. A few minutes after this photo, the bird took off and immediately rose a hundred feet in the air to soar over the desert. The mountain in the background is Mount Graham (elev. 10,724 feet), the southernmost peak in the continental United States to exceed 10,000 feet. Mount Graham dominates the landscape in southeastern Arizona: it’s visible from nearly everywhere. It and other tall mountains are referred to as “sky islands” in the American southwest because their different elevation zones support a number of varied habitats for wildlife and plants. Beyond this bird and the bees, we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on our visit to Gila Box; we’d especially hoped to encounter Gila monsters, which we’d been advised by Arizonans were common in the NCA.
Here’s another view of Mount Graham taken at a different time of day in the NCA, with part of the city of Willcox seen at its base. It’s barely visible in the previous photo with the raptor, but this image better shows a box-like structure in a mountain saddle at the right: that’s one of several telescopes maintained in the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO), which is operated by the University of Arizona along with other partners. The one viewable here is the Large Binocular Telescope; the other two MGIO telescopes are the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (the “Pope ‘Scope,” if you will, and maybe you won’t) and the Submillimeter Telescope. The clear skies due to the high elevation and sparse populations in the immediate area lend themselves to excellent telescope operations. The Large Binocular Telescope is about 30 miles from this viewpoint; it is indeed large. Regrettably, the MGIO only conducts tours from mid-April through mid-October because of road conditions so we weren’t able to check it out. We had a great view of Mount Graham from our campsite, and enjoyed seeing the changing weather conditions across the mountainside during our stay.
The abundant water of the Gila Box area (by Arizona’s standards, at least) supported ranching operations, including by the Apache, beginning in the 1870s. Cattle, sheep, and goat production peaked in the 1880s and early 1890s as the Southern Pacific Railway was completed across this part of Arizona, but later droughts and land mismanagement led to a near-total collapse of the industry. Ranchers may still graze stock on the NCA, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, but must restrict their herds to upland parts of the area and no grazing is permitted on public lands near the riparian areas. This structure’s roof has seen better days.
From a geology point of view, there’s a lot going on in these cliffs about 100 yards away from the Gila River. Between 25 and 16 million years ago, volcanic eruptions created lava flows that resulted in layers of basaltic rock. Later eruptions formed layers of sedimentary and conglomerate rocks, all of which the Gila carved through to make a spectacular canyon over millions of years. These cliffs are probably about 100 feet high.
And here is that canyon, which is the Gila Box. This is a few miles upstream from the overlook where I took the first photo of this posting. I really wish the sun had been shining on the canyon walls when we were there, but canyons and sunlight rarely have good timing together. The color of the rocks is still spectacular. Water is an amazingly destructive force, especially given enough time: this is the other side of the canyon formed by the cliffs in the previous photo, which are at least 100 yards west of this standpoint. Nancy and I were somewhat frustrated with the lack of established hiking trails in the NCA, but we did enjoy a short walk along the banks of the Gila River and experiencing this canyon wall, several hundred feet high, was especially rewarding. Gunther wasn’t able to join us next to the river; he kept getting spooked by something in the underbrush as we approached the river – it could only have been a lair of writhing, snapping Gila monsters, we believe – so we took in this sight individually while the other held the leash of our big baby.

Despite not being able to find any trails on which to stretch our legs (and it’s very possible that trails exist in parts of the NCA we didn’t see), we did enjoy the visit to Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. It would be really interesting to see it in spring, when the water’s really flowing. Maybe we’ll find Gila monsters somewhere else in Arizona.

Eastern Arizona Museum

January 29, 2022

After spending November and December 2021 and most of January 2022 in New Mexico, the Goddard made its way to Safford, Arizona, in late January, where we stayed for two weeks. Our first destination, not including a couple of very good Mexican restaurants in Safford and nearby Solomon, was the Eastern Arizona Museum in Pima, Arizona, which is a few miles west of Safford. The museum is located in the former Bank of Pima, which opened on May 19, 1916, with $30,000 in capital, as well as a couple of other adjoining buildings that were built separately but have since been connected. Like the museum in Deming, I neglected to get a photo of the exterior of this museum as well, but it’s an impressive building.

It’s hard to ignore the structure on the right: it’s pine bark that’s enclosing the museum’s office. I’m uncertain when, but some decades ago a Pima town employee used prison labor and the city’s dump truck to collect several loads of pine tree bark from the nearby Graham Mountains. They cleaned up the bark and then fumigated it under plastic to kill the insects, and then used the bark to construct display cases for the museum. In 1997 most of the display cases were remodeled like the ones on the left, but the bark remains around the museum’s office.

The town of Pima was founded on April 8, 1879, by a group of Mormon pioneer families on a site south of the Gila River (the same watercourse Nancy and I saw when we visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings north of Silver City, New Mexico, earlier in the month). The original settlers were joined later that year by several other families, and today the town has about 2,500 residents.

The museum has an impressive collection of Native American pottery and stone tools found in the area. It also features a wide variety of donated collections of tools, housewares, and other items dating back to the 1880s.

Here’s a large collection of old farm and ranch tools. Nancy noted that the person who wielded the sheep shears (to the right of the curry comb and bullet mold at center left) probably had impressive forearms. The shears date to the early 1900s.

Much of the museum’s collection is in a building called Cluff Hall, which is the oldest building in Pima. It has been connected to the former bank building just to its south as part of the museum. Moses Cluff constructed the building from limestone in 1882. It served as Pima’s cultural center, hosting plays, concerts, political debates, dances, and meetings of the Latter Day Saints (although it was never formally dedicated as a house of worship). The first kindergarten class in the Gila Valley was held in Cluff Hall in 1901, with tuition of five cents a day. In 1912, two immigrant brothers from Lithuania opened a clothing store but their endeavor was ended by the country’s entry into World War I a few years later. The two brothers later opened a department store in Safford that was in business until the 1960s. As with many old buildings, Cluff Hall was home to a huge variety of businesses and activities.

This bell, forged in 1890, was installed in a brick Latter Day Saints church that had been built in Pima in 1888. It’s perhaps two feet tall. A placard nearby has a recollection from 1981 of the bell by a resident of Pima, Laura McBride Smith, who was present when the bell was first rung 90 years earlier: “When that church bell in that building gave its first taps, I heard it. I climbed upon a big double gate where teams and people went in and out across the street west of the Pima Church house, and that is where I first heard the lovely sweet tones and it was first broadcast all over Pima. It was the first bell in the Gila Valley. It rang ’till the sun went down. It is something I have never forgotten. I am sure there isn’t another person alive today who heard that bell first ringing in 1891. Folks, its tone is just as sweet today as always, and to me, when this bell was poured hot in its case they poured a portion of ‘witchery’ into it and closed up the opening while hot and it could not get out and that ‘witchery’ potion will always be there. My children and everybody knew how much time they had to get to church or school the year around. What a blessing that old bell was to the whole community!”
Any museum in the western United States worth its salt will have a display of historic barbed wire, and on this point the Eastern Arizona Museum does not disappoint. This case, about six feet tall, includes information about the manufacturer, style, and date of each example.
I really like the simple burlap and wood presentation of this exhibit, which is located on top of the larger case seen above. I used to have a DYMO label maker when I was a kid – I never forgot what the things in my bedroom were called back then because everything was labelled.
Still more examples of barbed wire from the 1870s and 1880s. Some of these styles look like they were quite a lot of work to manufacture, especially in the quantities needed to fence the American west. I’m just happy that everyone shares my appreciation of barbed wire.
Let’s, with regret, set aside our examination of barbed wire for a bit. Here’s a phonograph that belonged to Thomas Hollis Dodge, who was born in Pima in 1897. This phonograph was the first one in the Gila Valley. The recordings on the wax cylinders didn’t have the names of the artists until 1910. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to music being transmitted into the Goddard from satellites positioned more than 22,000 miles above Earth and I have access to 95% of the catalog of human song recording, including the one on this blue cylinder if only we knew what it is. For now, I’ll have to be happy with “Be My Baby” (The Ronettes, 1963). And I am.
The placard on this manual foot-pump organ states that it was purchased by Adiel Sanchez and Reyes Colvin Sanchez in 1915 and used many years in a church in Sanchez, a town about 20 miles west of Pima, and later used in their home. I love the wear marks on the pedals, and I’m sure the people playing this organ made beautiful music.
The placard for this item notes that its first owner, W.W. Pace, “had to put up his own lines to have this telephone.” It’s one of the first telephones installed in Thatcher, which is a town just west of Safford on the way to Pima. Nancy’s family will note that this phone is a fine Western Electric product. I took all of these photos at the Eastern Arizona Museum with my phone, which doesn’t have the beautiful wooden construction of the model shown here.
Here’s something I found really interesting: this is the wedding photo of Albert M. Haws and Alice Cluff Haws from October 30, 1911. They’re a very handsome couple. A trunk on the floor under the photo contains Alice’s wedding dress and clothes worn by some of their later children. The interesting part is …
… next to the 1911 photo above is this program from the celebration of the couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary on October 28, 1961. Albert and Alice were married for six years before the United States entered World War I, and celebrated their 30th anniversary a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were married eight years after the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, and, a few months before their 50th anniversary, the Soviet Union and, later, the United States sent men via rockets into space for the first time. Still a very handsome couple, and I appreciated that the family shared its history with museum visitors.

The Eastern Arizona Museum is a great example of a community historical institution that continues to serve its community. There are plenty of resources for families with roots in the area to continue genealogical research, and there’s a huge variety of exhibits that nearly anyone will find of interest. And, as the Haws family shows us, museums can put personal family gatherings in the historical context of larger world events. Especially when the museums are in historic buildings, one has an opportunity to wonder about all of the people who stepped through those doorways in the many decades before, and who may have used the objects now on display: farmers, bankers, mothers, young students … what were their lives like in the 1890s or the 1910s or the 1960s? What made them laugh, and what made them stay up sleepless at night? We can all learn a lot from history, and great community institutions like the Eastern Arizona Museum are a perfect place to do just that.

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