A cold, wet wind swooped in, so I took flight eastward on horseback through the valleys, up across hillsides thick with low forests broken by patches of native range grasses, down washes and draws and into country once “owned” by the Chiricahua Apache. No land deeds necessary, physical dominance sufficed then. Cochise, Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas — who gave mortal hell to the U.S. Army in over a decade of raids and warfare to defend their traditional lands – leaders in the Apache Wars of 1861-1872. Another angle of view of southeast Arizona.
The horseback was only in my mind. Mid-February had found me wanting a new view. My Lovely was away in Washington, the Phoenix metroplex was tiresome. Then two near-perfect days watching birds at Patagonia Lake ended abruptly with rain and high winds. But I had spotted and shot several firsts in my bird photo collection, including –
Red-naped Sapsucker (Yep! They really do “suck” sap. Look it up); Ladderback Woodpecker; Gilded Flicker; Vermilion Flycatcher (what a showy fellow!); White-throated Sparrow; Pyrrhuloxia; and White-winged Dove. And there was a huge plague (official label) of Great-tailed Grackles.
Birds may not like storms any more than humans do, but I reckon they don’t complain about it. (Due to the wind, these photos are a bit blurry.)
As said, I lit out for the remote Cochise County, Arizona’s extreme southeast corner. Stopped first, though, in the funky-but-literary town of Patagonia for coffee and a quick browse at their public library, which I’d visited before and found good local color – old-timers spinning out verbal yarns real-time. No disappointment this time, either. Walked away from listening to some fun conversations after a bit and passed a lot of western nostalgia along the road.
The 30-mile stretch of Highway 83 to Parker Canyon Lake from the wide-spot town of Sonoita doesn’t earn the “highway” designation. It’s a contorted, climbing, plunging and primitive route that cuts secretively into the rolling mountains as if trying to escape. Only a slight departure from that time in history when roads often snaked through ranchland and farmland in 90-degree turns made along owners’ boundaries to avoid bisecting a rancher’s or farmer’s grazing lands. “Hit weren’t allowed.”
Sliding through a funnel, narrower and still narrower, mile on mile, the pavement was mostly free of markings – just choppy, tooth-rattling surface through beautiful steep-rolling foothills, grasslands and forests of juniper, manzanita and scrub oak with a spreading habit like live oak. A refreshing departure from the desert terrain of most of Arizona. In winter months like February, the grass stands golden at about two feet high, thick and swaying with the winds … unless covered by snow.
Deer bolted across the road in front and then stopped to stare as I passed. Their coats had an almost sage green hue – either my imagination or their adaptation to local habitat with lots of rocks and lichens of similar hue and the Hairy-seed Bahia, Common Mullein and Desert Marigold plants that abound.
I got there about an hour before dusk. Parker Canyon Lake, Cochise County, about 10 miles north of the border with the State of Sonora, Mexico. Heavy clouds got there first and soaked the place, and rain was still pelting down with a vengeance. Finding the most remote site, I began dinner prep as thick, falling snowflakes caught my attention out the window. No worry. Forecast was for temps hovering at 42, even at this elevation of 5,375 feet, so I dug in to my meal like a ravenous wolf. Only, I had a glass of good red wine.
Inclement weather can cause one to default to a too-rare solitude. There’s a reprieve from “city campers” who in good weather shift their urban way of life to lakeside with electronic gadgets, dogs and noise that spoil the serenity of remoteness. As dark fell, I shortly fell soundly asleep in the Coronado National Forest south of the Dragoon Mountains (where Cochise hid with his warriors) and west of the Chiricahua Range that borders with New Mexico. The stormy night was so dark that I could scarcely see my hand in front of my face. No stars, no outdoor lighting. Perfect for camping.
* * * * *
On the way out next morning, I happened upon a Border Patrol officer sitting off to one side of a 90-degree turn. I remembered the highway signs I’d seen on the way in an afternoon earlier, about every three miles — “Caution: Rough road next 4 miles” — and just before I’d run out of rough road, another such forecast appeared. Exaggeration, but not by much. The rutted washboard macadam could beat a vehicle and its driver to premature death.
But since morning traffic was nil (same as afternoon), I stopped in the middle of the narrow road and opened my driver’s window. The officer took the cue and rolled down his.
“Hey,” I smiled, “you may want to tell the ADOT folks they’d save a lot of money on highway signs if they just put up signs that say, ‘Watch out, smooth road surface for two miles ahead.’ They’d have to make and maintain a lot FEWER signs!”
He gave an exuberant thumbs-up and “Great idea! Have a great day, sir!” Big smile back. Folks in the countryside are relaxed, independent attitude notwithstanding. Most of Arizona is welcoming. The first smile is easy to come by, and if you return it freely, you’re welcomed back.
Then, in another 90-degree turn, I dropped into another time warp. A roadside sandwich sign absent the day before told of a Sunday rodeo at the Canelo Cowboy Church.
A cold morning mist stung the face, bad enough weather to keep a lot of city churchgoers at home. But hardy ranch kids, girls and boys, were out with parents in well-worn western gear complete with spurs and chaps, riding steers and broncs out of the chute for time and competing in goat-tying contests. The simple, physically-challenging fun of rural life exceeds the wildest imagination of urban indoor electro-kids. I found a pullout, hiked back along the road and took some shots of the folks having Sunday fun being bucked off faunching animals poked with hotshots while clowns in ridiculous attire cavorted all round the enraged animals. Pretty easy to classify those folks within Will Rogers’ humorous depiction:
There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. ~ Will Rogers
Sometimes those forgotten, back-corner, out-of-the-way places of life deliver wonderful unexpected entertainment – the refreshment we need.
Carpe diem. Vita brevis!
© May 6, 2017, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.