Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chiricahua National Monument: a wonderland of rocks

Chiricahua National Monument
The National Park Service calls Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona a “wonderland of rocks.” As you drive through the park, looking at fantastic rock formations, it is hard to dispute that moniker. The Apaches who roamed the area called it, “The land of standing-up rocks,” another nickname that is hard to argue with.

The monument is in the Chiricahua Mountains, an inactive volcano field that is 20 miles wide and 40 miles long. The monument itself is almost 12,000 acres.

Road to Massai Point
Noteworthy about this spot is that it’s where the Chiricahua, Rockies and Sierra Madre mountains meet the Sonoran and Chiricahuan deserts. This makes for great biodiversity, as trees from the different ecosystems live side by side.
There’s a small visitor center with exhibits that shows an eight-minute video about the monument. It’s narrated by the late Rex Allen, a local boy who hit the big time in Hollywood. Next up is the scenic drive to Massai Point. Some of the road lies under a canopy of trees, but the volcanic rock formations are still in the limelight.

View from Massai Point
Massai Point has a circular turnaround, an interpretive center and restrooms. Trails start here but some visitors found them too steep to walk. More trails can be found at Echo Canyon; in all, the monument has 17 miles of trails.

Motorists should note that RVs and trailers longer than 29 feet are long are not allowed beyond the visitor center.

Chiricahua National Monument is located 37 miles south of Willcox. Exit Interstate 10 at Willcox and head south on Highway 186. Turn left on Highway 181. The drive from Willcox takes about 45 minutes.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

History comes to life at Tucson Presidio Museum

Mural at Tucson Presidio Museum
History travels back to the days when the Spanish ruled Tucson when as soldados fire muskets and a cannon, and then walk through downtown Tucson, Arizona.

This happens the second Saturday of every month from October through April when the Tucson Presidio Museum hosts its “living history” days. Volunteers become Spanish soldiers, dressed in blue and white uniforms; other volunteers don costumes as they portray other residents of the Presidio San Agustin del Tucson.

The presidio was founded in Tucson on August 20, 1775, when soldiers stationed at the Tubac Presidio south of Tucson left only a handful of soldiers there and moved the troops north.  These same troops would later travel overland to California and up the Pacific Coast where they founded San Francisco.

Foundation remains
The current “presidio” is a recreation of the original presidio, or fort, that sat on 11 acres of what today is downtown Tucson. The Spanish abandoned it when Tucson came under American rule in 1856. The presidio site was eventually turned into a parking lot and high-rise office buildings. About 10 years ago, a group acquired the parking lot and built an interpretive center on the site; this presidio is owned by the City of Tucson.  A bit of foundation of the original presidio was found under the asphalt.

The presidio museum is open for self-guided tours Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors can see soldiers’’ quarters, the foundry and food storage areas. A small museum is inside the entrance building.

Spanish "soldados" fire muskets
The presidio, however, really shines on living history days. Some volunteers explain what foods the soldiers brought with them from Spain and what foods were available in the New World. Other volunteers bake bread in a domed adobe over, churn butter and make fresh tortillas and pozole, a chili-like stew made from hominy corn instead of beans. All these dishes are available for visitors to sample.

Volunteers at other tables explain items used by the soldiers on a daily basis, such as cards and tobacco tins. Nearby a woman sits at a loom, weaving cloth, while two men sweat away at a foundry, one making nails by hand and the other fashioning a fork. These items can be purchased by visitors.

The piece de resistance is, however, the gun show. Following instructions given in Spanish, the soldiers take aim and fire, with white smoke billowing out of the muskets. A little later, they’ll demonstrate the firing of a brass cannon. The noise is deafening, though an announcer explains the charge was only about a third of what the Spanish really used. The charge used by the volunteers was spiced up, with the addition or oatmeal and powdered coffee creamer to make the blast flash.

Tucson Presidio Museum is located at 133 W. Washington Street, though the address is sometimes given as 197 N. Church Street, perhaps because the presidio is located at the intersection of Church and Washington. Parking is limited in the immediate area and is metered on weekdays. There’s a parking garage across Church Street.




Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bisbee, Arizona: historic copper mining town

Old mining equipment
Bisbee is a quaint town with narrow streets and Victorian homes perched on hillsides in southeastern Arizona. It was founded in 1880 at a time when mining was king, or, perhaps the term “ queen” should be used since the Copper Queen was the city’s pre-eminent mine. Gold and silver also were mined here.

Remnants of past mining operations are abundant in Bisbee. The Copper Queen mine was originally an underground mine, but switched to open pit mining when this method of extraction became popular in the 20th century. The huge open pit stretches for a couple of miles on the west side of Highway 80; Bisbee is on the other side. In the early 20th century, the Copper Queen was the most productive copper mine in Arizona, producing an extremely high grade of copper. The copper ore removed from it also contained gold and silver.
Remains of Bisbee's open pit copper mine
Mining equipment decorates the lawn at the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, a National Landmark that once served as offices for Phelps Dodge, the company that operated the Copper Queen mine.

Today, Old Bisbee is a tourist attraction, as visitors flock to shop at art galleries, boutiques, book and antique shops, and view the quaint houses that fill the hillsides in the historic section of town. The houses have so many steps leading to them, the city sponsors a stair climb, in which runners go up and down more than 1,000 steps in a 5k run.
Downtown Old Bisbee
Bisbee: an historic town

Be forewarned, parking in Old Bisbee can be difficult to come by, especially on event weekends and one local said Bisbee has events almost every weekend. Streets are narrow, with sometimes not enough room for two vehicles to pass by each other, let alone allow for parking, even on one side.  On event weekends, visitors park on the shoulders of Highway 80 and then walk up or down the hill into town.

Bisbee is a popular locale used in movies and fiction books. J.A. Jance sets her Joanna Brady murder mystery novels in Bisbee and surrounding Cochise County. Parts of the movie 3:10 to Yuma (the original and the remake) were filmed in Bisbee.

Bisbee is just over 90 miles from Tucson. Take the Benson exit off Interstate 10 and follow the signs. Motorists will pass through Tombstone on the way.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Desert plants star at Yuma Conservation Garden

Duck pond at Yuma Conservation Garden
Vegetation from the Lower Sonora Desert fills 28 acres along one of Yuma, Arizona’s, major streets. The Yuma Conservation Garden also has a nice collection of antique farm machinery and a large pond filled with swimming ducks and geese.

The garden got its start in the 1950s, and was taken over by the Yuma, Laguna and Wellton-Mohawk Valley Natural Resource Conservation Districts in 1987. The garden’s mission is to encourage environmental education that involves protection of the area’s natural resources.

Dirt and gravel trails take visitors around the garden, which includes a variety of cactus from the U.S. and Mexican sides of the Sonora Desert. The list of cacti includes the saguaro, cholla, prickly pear and pine cone.

Though the garden is in an urban setting, visitors may see long-tailed lizards, rabbits, coyotes, roadrunners and night hawks. The garden also has a resident desert tortoise, the 75-pound Baloo.

Yuma Conservation Garden
The centerpiece of the garden, however, is the pond where visitors can sit on benches and watch a variety of geese and ducks swim by; waterfowl are a mixture of wild and domestic. Tall palm trees surround the pond, creating a relaxing view.

The garden has been designated an urban wildlife area by both the state Land, and Fish and Game departments.

As an educational center, the garden hosts upwards of 5,000 students every year. It is certified by the Arizona Department of Education for students in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

The garden is located next to the Pima County Fairgrounds at 2520 E. 32nd Street. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays November through April. Admission is free.

More photos of Yuma Conservation Garden can be seen on my Youtube channel,