To The Charleston Bridge And Back

It was the evening of September 19th, last Thursday. Several of my musical cohorts had gathered at my apartment to play a few tunes. Of course these occasions are social as well as musical, and occasionally we would take a break and talk.

Jim, one of our bodhran (Irish drum) players works for the federal Bureau Of Land Management. The BLM manages quite a bit of wild and semi-wild land in our area, including much of the watershed of the San Pedro River. Jim loves that river and his job requires that he spend a lot of time in and around the stream. He has been excited lately by the record high levels of the river’s flow after the recent monsoon rains. Jim said to me:

“Larry, tomorrow morning you really should drive over to the Charleston Bridge over the San Pedro. The channel narrows in that reach of the river and the water should be really roaring!”

I can take a hint! The following morning I got up early, drank some coffee, and ate some eggs fried with chile peppers and onion. Just as dawn was lightening the eastern horizon I was driving towards Juniper Flats, a miles-long flat-topped granite mountain just outside of Bisbee. Mist shrouded the eminence and the whole scene was surreal. The cell-phone towers on top of the Flats were barely visible:

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I found a spot where I could pull over as morning traffic whizzed by. More mist swirled around the towers until they were barely visible. An imaginary scene from an old novel imperfectly remembered took form in my mind:

Frodo and Sam, cloaks wrapped around them to counter the chill morning breeze, gazed in wonder at the scene before them. Sam said:

“Could those be the towers of Minas Tirith, Frodo?”

Frodo’s eyes narrowed and his look of melancholy determination made him seem older. He said:

“I’m afraid so, Sam. Saruman awaits us in his dark tower!”

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The sky began to lighten as I descended into the broad San Pedro Valley. The river is bordered by cottonwoods, an undulating dark-green ribbon bisecting the valley. I crossed the highway bridge, then after a few miles turned on to Moson Road. The landscape in that morning light was simply stunning. Mist swathed the Mule Mountains in cascading layers of white and gray. I had to pull over or run off the road. I shot a few photos that charmed morning:

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A pickup truck passed me, going fast, and I pulled out behind it. There were no speed limit signs, but I figured that the truck was probably driven by a local rancher, and he probably knew the local speed limit. I was buzzing along at fifty-five or so when I passed a parked sheriff’s car. “Hmm”, I thought, “I wonder what he’s waiting for?”

Me, it turned out! The sheriff, with blue and red lights flashing, promptly pulled me over into some high grass on the road’s shoulder.

I’m a bit skittish about having run-ins with law enforcement officers. I’ve had some unpleasant experiences and I hoped this wouldn’t be one to add to the list!

The sheriff seemed to be in a good mood as he walked up to me from his car.

“Y’know that there’s a speed limit of 45 miles per hour on Moson?” he asked me.

“I really didn’t know! I didn’t see any signs.”

“Well, I’m just givin’ ya a friendly warning. Try to keep your speed down, okay?”

Just then another armed and uniformed man walked up and stood beside the sheriff. He was from the BLM. He said:

“Hi! Was that you parked by the side of the road back there a ways? Havin’ some trouble, were ya?”

“No, no trouble. I was shooting photos of the Mules…”

“Yeah, that mist is somethin’ else this morning, isn’t it! Where ya headin’?”

“I’m going to the Charleston Road Bridge to see the floodwaters, take some photos.”

“Well, have fun! I might see you over there later!”

Both the sheriff and the BLM guy seemed cheery, almost ebullient. Not too surprising, as they were being paid to be out and around in this splendid landscape!

The sheriff indicated that I was free to go. It’s always a relief to hear that!

After a few miles more of driving at 45 MPH I turned right on Charleston Road, which would take me back to the river and the Charleston Road Bridge, my destination. There was a parking lot near the bridge, and angled across the river was an older iron bridge. I parked and let Dingo, my dog, out. Dingo followed me onto the old bridge, where I encountered a woman with her young son. We peered down at the brown torrents raging below.

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I said to the woman “This is amazing! Have you ever seen the San Pedro so high?”

“Yeah, a few times, but I’ve never seen it last this long!”

The young boy petted Dingo while we watched the water rush on past.

I decided to walk down to the edge of the riverbank below the bridge. Dingo followed me and the dog was soon invisible in the rank streamside vegetation.

Then the woman, still on the bridge with her boy, shouted down to me:

“Your dog! Your dog! It’s in the water!”

Oh, no! that current would snatch that dog away, and who knows where she would end up! I couldn’t find Dingo anywhere. Then the woman shouted to me again:

“Your dog’s up here with us!”

I looked up towards the parking lot, and there was Dingo, prowling around and doubtless soaking up new and strange scents.

I shot a few more photos of the torrential river water:

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I was ready to head for home, as I felt I had adequately recorded the scene. I headed back up Charleston Road. Perhaps because I was watching my speed carefully I missed my turnoff on to Moson Road and ended up at a busy Sierra Vista intersection. The morning rush was in full swing. Damn, I thought. I really don’t like driving in heavy traffic. I saw an opportunity to drive the long way back, south on Rt. 92, so I took it and sped out of town.

That drive was frustrating, as there were incredible scenes of morning light illuminating the cloud-swathed Huachuca Mountains, but traffic was heavy and it was hard to find a place to pull off. I finally found a place, parked, and shot some photos. In the next photo Rt. 92 can be seen stretching out across the San Pedro Valley, headed for the Mule Mountains and Bisbee:

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Another shot of the Mules nearly obscured by clouds:

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I was tired after all of this and took a nap after I got back to the apartment! So did Dingo.

Larry

4 comments on “To The Charleston Bridge And Back

  1. bev says:

    I’ve been enjoying seeing these photos of the San Pedro. When I walk along it in winter, it appears to be such an innocuous looking stream. However, when you look far up into the towering cottonwoods and see the flood debris lodged among the branches, you do know it has its crazy times. Fun to see these photos to confirm what I’d already guessed! Love that moody first photo of Juniper Flats in the mist.

  2. Christina says:

    I enjoyed reading your story. Wonderful pictures and wonderful story to go with it. You made me feel like I was with you as we encountered the storm coming in. Beyond excellent work.

  3. I hope you’re going to go back and pick up samples of drifted land snails once the water subsides by a couple of metres! Spates like this are such a wonderful way to sample the fauna of an area.

  4. Larry Ayers says:

    Thanks, Bev and Christina!

    Fred, I’ll try to go back once the water has subsided. That portion of the San Pedro Valley is so scenic that any excuse would do!

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