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.
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.
We saw a number of birds at the Botanical Gardens, including five species I’d never seen before.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
There were other types of erosion on view as well. Running water can be an incredibly effective factor for erosion, especially given enough time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Bascom Affair
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 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 next significant stop on the trail to the visitor center is the ruins of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency.
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 Battle of Apache Pass
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.
The First Fort Bowie
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, all of this avian activity was of great interest to the feline member of The Goddard’s crew.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.