Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Chiricahua trip

Chiricahua trip (6/16/07)
Although we left Tucson a bit later than intended at 8:30, it was nice to know that I’d gotten gas at a relatively reasonable price, even though I hadn’t managed to get the National Forest maps that I wanted. On the way out of town, Nancy managed to snap a quick shot of “A Mountain”.

We managed to make it to the Little Dragoon Mountains area before an impending diaper emergency compelled us to look for a good place to get off the highway. The first inclination was to stop at the interstate rest area, until we noticed that the Amerind Foundation museum was included in our Tucson area “Attractions Passport”. We didn’t realize until already off the highway that the museum wasn’t scheduled to open for another 20 minutes or so. Anyhow, it turned out that they had a neat picnic area in the rocks (with shade!) that we could get in to while waiting for the museum opening. That was good for some kids that like climbing on rocks.

A few minutes after 10:00 we pulled into the museum parking lot to be their first visitors of the day. Although the amount of Indian artifacts that they had on display was not quite as much as I expected, there was a good variety from various regions and of impressive quality. No pictures allowed, but they did allow us to ransack, I mean browse, the souvenir shop.

Getting back on I-10, we made a stop in Wilcox for fast food before heading southeast toward the Chiricahua Mountains. Generally the area high desert ranchland with distant views of the mountains. A train crossing the Wilcox Playa about 20 miles away seemed kind of strange looking through the heat and mirages. Finally we got to Chiricahua National Monument. Nobody was waiting at the gate to look at our pass, and the views of the mountains gave little hint of the rock formations hidden within them. Our first glimpses up Bonita Canyon were near the Visitor Center, where me and the older kids went in for a quick look at all the stuff for sale (and a couple displays) and picked up a map. Driving up the canyon, it quickly started getting more interesting but there weren’t a lot of good views where we could get decent pictures. As we neared the top of the mountains we managed to get some quick shots from the road and then spent some time around Massai Point. (Surprisingly the overlook is actually named for a Chiricahua Apache leader rather than for the tribe in Africa.)

After some snacks and so forth, we walked around up to the exhibit and along part of the nature trail to get a glimpse of the rock formations. John was happy to be riding in the kid pack while the rest of us had to walk (except Rebecca of course).

Finally we drove over to the Sugarloaf lookout for a quick look so that I could drool over the trail that we didn’t have time for.

By now it was past 2:00 and we needed to get moving if we were gonna have time to go up and over the top of the Chiricahuas on the forest road. But we did manage to get some pictures coming back down through Bonita Canyon of one of the peaks and of the Organ Pipe rock formation.

We also came across some deer before leaving the park.

Going up the west side of the mountains on the forest road turned out to be pretty slow going, especially since I was conscious of bouncing around our damaged bumper (and Rebecca’s head). Most parts were decently graded, though washboarded, but there were also some steep spots and really sharp curves. Most of the way there wasn’t much opportunity for photographs and I passed up the better views in the interest of staying on the road. Finally after a long 45 minutes or so of bouncing along at about 10 mph, we reached Onion Saddle and the turnoff to continue climbing up to Rucker Park. The views to the east now were dramatic and we even managed to get some pictures through the trees. It was about 4:00 when we got to the day use area at the end of the road around 8400’ elevation. There were any distant views from right there, just nice cool air in the ponderosa pine/Douglas fir forest, and picnic tables. And of course there was a trail. If we’d had time and a map, it would have been nice to make the hike up to Frys Peak at about 9400’. But we did stretch our legs for a short distance on the trail.

After about an hour or so, it was time to head back down the mountain. I definitely wanted to make sure we got down before sunset, and gas was getting to be a concern (since somehow I failed to fill up the tank all the way before leaving Tucson). Of course, I probably got a lot better gas mileage going down since I practically never had to actually use the accelerator. Gravity took care of that. We also made a lot better time, partly because the road seemed smoother on the east side of the mountains. Along the way, we had great views, a close encounter with a bull, and saw running water in a creek for the first time since coming to Arizona.

Here’s a view looking back up to the mountain crest that we had been on top of.

Besides the occasional presence of running water, the east side of the mountains also turned out to have a very dramatic canyon that the road (now paved) follows along Cave Creek. Looking back at this eastern entrance to the area, it was easy to understand why the town just east of the National Forest boundary is called Portal. A diaper stop here proved to be a perfect photo stop.

After another half hour or so of cruising along at a quick 60 mph, we made it back to interstate at Road Forks, New Mexico. There didn’t really seem to be a town, but there was a truck stop with gas at the amazing price of $2.839 per gallon, in the middle of nowhere. God is good! By now the sun was going down and we had a solid two hours of driving back to our home in Tucson, plus a couple of stops along the way.
Although the trip wasn’t exactly what I expected, it was a good all-day adventure that was mostly enjoyed by everyone, even if they didn’t always understand why they were getting bounced around out in the middle of nowhere. Not a bad little Father’s Day weekend trip. And there seemed to be a consensus that next time we need to go camping…


Lisa said...

What a great adventure! Y'all sure know how to pack a day full! I'm so excited that y'all are getting good use out of the kid pack.

Nancy said...

It was definitely a full day. Rebecca had us stopping a few times on the drive back with lots of gas trouble!
John adores the kid pack, he's been getting quite a few rides in it especially lately. I think he will be sad when he outgrows it and it is Rebecca's turn to ride.