Monday, June 28, 2004


The Chiricahuas

My family and I took a trip to the Chiricahuas a couple weekends ago. I'll have to post some of the pictures from the trip as well. We traveled from Tucson, through Willcox and took a right on Pinery Canyon road just before we would have entered the National Monument. We camped on a Friday night at the Pinery Canyon campground about halfway across the mountains at about 6950 feet elevation in a pine forest. We were the only occupants of the 5 or 6 space campground there, which was probably good, since it does not have any restrooms, only flat areas for tents, picnic tables and grills. Considering how dry things are, we brought in food that we did not have to cook, to avoid the fire restriction issues (we could have had a fire in the grill or with propane stoves, but not open fires). We uncharacteristically pulled into the campground about 3PM - traditionally, we have always pulled into the last campsite in a campground right at the crack of sunset (I should tell about our trip up to Toroweap Overlook last summer....). That night, before going to sleep, I pulled out my new binoculars and scanned the skies through the holes in the tree cover. Up in southern Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), I ran across a fuzzy object that I didn't remember. It was probably about 6th magnitude - a pretty easy object. I made a mental note of its place amongst the starfield so I could look for it again the next night.

We were off bright and early the next morning, continuing our drive over the Pinery Canyon road. This road is a dirt road, very easy for our Trooper and would not have been a problem for most passenger cars. The only washboarding was back within the first couple miles from the turnoff just short of the National Monument. The views were spectacular as we drover over Onion Pass and over onto the Eastern slopes of the Chiricahaus. We took a left on the road towards Paradise, a little community that used to support mining in its heyday about a hundred years ago. On our agenda for the day were 6 geocaches, the first two were just east of Paradise. I blinked and almost missed Paradise, but I did forget to get a picture signs announcing our presence in Paradise - drat. The first geocache was next to the Paradise Cemetary and we found it easily before roaming through the headstones, imagining the lives these folks must have had all those years ago. The oldest was from the early 20th Century, about 1904 or so. I would come to recognize many of the names on those headstones later, as I picked up a copy of A Portal to Paradise by Alden Hayes, a longtime resident of the Portal area, when we stopped at the little store in Portal later that day.

The 2nd 4 geocaches of the day were back along the road into Cave Creek, past the ranger station there, which had a great display of live critters, namely rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters. I did a double take when I looked in their cages, thinking they were realistic models until I saw the snake working on swallowing a dead white mouse..... We picked up some maps of the area at the ranger station and stopped along the main road for cache numbers 3, 4 and 5 of the day. Most of them were a short distance from the logical parking spot, but the 5th required a scramble up some rocks. The last cache of the day was over by Crystal Cave, across a small canyon, actually, from the actual cave entrance which we visited early the next morning. Crystal Cave is closed without a permit that one can apparently get back at the ranger station near Portal and is locked with a gate. We camped at the Bob Martyr campground and after dark, I confirmed that the fuzzy I had seen last night had moved - it was a Comet. But, was it a new comet or a known one? It was in the area that Comet NEAT was heading towards when I had last seen it a month or so earlier, so I suspected it was not going to be a new comet. When I got home, my suspicions where confirmed, it was comet NEAT. Too bad.

On Sunday, after our hike up to Crystal Cave, we drove back up Pinery Canyon road, reversing our course (well almost - we had taken a detour the previous day into Paradise instead of coming past Cave Creek into the Portal area) and head west back over Onion Pass on the road. We headed into the National Monument, buying an Annual Park Pass which we will hopefully use in other National Parks and National Monuments in the next 12 months. We spent the day taking short hikes and seeing the sites after spending almost $150 in the ranger station giftshop. We're suckers for books, maps and other goodies to be found in such places....

By midafternoon, we were heading back to Tucson - we needed to get home at a reasonable hour since my Son had to start summerschool classes early the next morning. We did 4 more geocaches along I-10 and after stopping at "The Thing" to get some goodies at the Dairy Queen there, we made it home with two Travel Bugs and lots of pictures and stories!


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