Back In Bisbee, Arizona

Finally, after troubles and delays which would try a saint, I rolled into Bisbee this afternoon.  After my truck problems had been resolved, I spent two days at City of Rocks State Park in SW New Mexico.  What a surreal and image-rich experience!

That was followed by a night and a day at a deprecated National Forest Service camp-site in the Chiricuhua Mountains.  Deprecated?  That just means they would rather you just hike there; such a better class of visitors!

Right now I’m parked up on Juniper Flats outside Bisbee, way up on a ridgetop with strong winds buffeting the truck.The setting sun warms the cab of the truck, and I have food to eat tonight.  I’m content.

“What, no photos?”, a hard-to-please reader exclaims grumpily.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!

Larry

More Bryce Canyon Photos

I can’t help but wonder what Mormon settler Ebenezer Bryce thought as he entered the weird and dramatic canyon (actually more of an amphitheater) which was ultimately named after him. The Mormon Church had ordered, or strongly suggested, that he take his family to the remote area and homestead there.

Bryce was evidently a pragmatic man; he has been recorded as saying, “It’s a helluva place to lose a cow”. Bryce settled there in 1874 and lasted until 1880, discouraged by the effects of over-grazing, drought, and flood, not unusual in Utah red-rock country. He and his family moved to Texas. Life in hoodoo country is not easy.

Bev and I spent just a day there last month, but I hope to go back in the near future. Such amazing sights!

After walking down the steep path to the canyon (see this previous post: Two Interludes), I was becoming annoyed by the flocks of other tourists. Perhaps there was a side-path, so I could experience the place without the company of other people?

At the bottom of the canyon I saw another path branching off, but a chain and a warning sign barred it off. I blithely stepped over the chain and was alone again, as Bev had stayed with the collies up in the parking lot.

Wonders and splendors awaited me as I walked up the path. Some views:

Notice how precisely and sharply the contours of the sandstone formation are outlined against the sky. This is a phenomenon of the arid Southwest; the humidity in the more humid parts of the continent blurs similar outlines, something you become accustomed to. A visit to the canyonlands of the Southwest is like having your optical prescription updated.

I began to wonder why the path had been chained off. Perhaps a rock-slide?

I came to the entry to a slot canyon. I saw a woman walking into it and followed her in. She was Hispanic, and I encountered her urging her husband to leave with her, but he was busy taking photographs and ignored her as long as he reasonably could. The couple noticed me and the woman approached me, her husband oblivious as he captured a few final photos of the dramatic scene.

She said to me, “You want me to make a picture of you?”

I was charmed by the use of the word “make” rather then “take”. I really didn’t want a “picture of me” right then, but I gave her my camera and she took a shot of me in the slot canyon; it didn’t turn out too well so I won’t include it here. Nice of her to offer, though!

The couple left and I focused my attention. What a cool place to be on a sunny day!

A switch-backed trail led up the steep slope outside of the canyon. I looked back:

I found out why the trail had been closed off. The zig-zag path was coated with a layer of snow which had an icy surface. Evidently the hour or two of sun the trail receives each day had melted the surface and made it rather treacherous.

I got to the top and saw another sign:

We drove out of the park headquarters area and stopped several more times for photography, but the remainder of my chosen photos will have to wait for another post!

Larry

Geraniums Everywhere

Members of the genus Geranium are commonly encountered; they can easily be distinguished by their dissected palmate leaves and weirdly elongated seed-pods, which due to a fancied resemblance causes several species to be known as cranesbills. I have long been familiar with Midwest woodland species of Geranium, such as the common Wood Geranium or Alum Root, which some refer to as the Old Maid’s Nightcap: Geranium maculatum.

Here in central New Mexico I’ve been seeing profuse growths of another species, one with a very spiny and elongated seed-pod. You might say that the pod is a caricature of the actual bill of a crane. I’m not sure of the species, but suspect that it’s a native of Europe that has found a new home in the US, as have so many other Europeans. Some cranesbill pods growing in front of stones in a gravelly campground:

Frankly the pods are more interesting and striking than the modest pale-purple flowers, though these can have some charm when growing en masse:

Larry

Socorro Sights

No, I won’t be showing any travelog-style photos of this mid-size town in central New Mexico. I really haven’t seen any of the historical and/or scenic parts of town, and thus I can’t do it justice. I’m on foot, way out on the edge of town while my truck is being fixed, and the sun and low humidity have been relentless.

You don’t want, I am sure, to see shots of the long commercial strip along California Street. It’s all too easy to see such scenes of fast-food, gas station, and motel commercialism wherever you might live.

I was walking down the strip early this afternoon, cap-brim held low against the glare, as I needed some groceries.

I happened to walk by a clump of cacti which has been gradually coming into full bloom, with showy scarlet blossoms, during the past few days. Today I had remembered to bring my camera. The clump, most likely the species Echinocereus fasciculatus, was growing next to the sidewalk in front of an unmarked stucco or adobe building, evidently a business not doing much or any of that these days.

My attention was attracted by a card pierced by a slotted hole which was hanging from the doorknob of the main entrance. I moved closer:

Hmm… it looked like a business of some sort failed and left behind an outstanding power bill. The business also left behind a nice clump of Echinocereus, which is carrying on regardless of the fate of the human planters!

A view of the clump:

Notice the sharply-cut shadows on the sidewalk cast by the merciless sun typical at this eight-thousand-foot altitude.

A shot taken from up-under:

A single flawless blossom:

After this mild exertion, squatting there on the sidewalk and regarding the clump, I straightened up, took a drink from my water bottle, and proceeded on down the sidewalk.

Larry

Two Interludes

Right now I’m stranded in an RV park on the edge of Socorro, New Mexico, at an altitude of 8000 feet in the dry and high desert. My truck is enduring a head transplant, and I’m hoping that the mechanics have mercy upon me and don’t take undue advantage of a lone traveler.

My partner Bev recently posted a nice photo-essay about our last day together, just before we parted ways: she is now back in Canada, and I’m trying to make my way to Bisbee, Arizona, for the summer. We hope to be reunited soon.

Forest Interlude

I’m feeling rather vulnerable here, with no truck for shelter in inclement weather. My musical instruments are out in the open, and the tent I’m staying in wouldn’t withstand rainy weather for long. The truck should be ready tomorrow and I’ll gladly be on my way. Luckily the skies are clear and it probably won’t rain here for weeks or months.

During our meandering journey to the east Bev and I visited some remarkable sites, great examples of American geological splendor.

Here are a couple of shots from that day. I felt a bit oppressed by the crowd of tourists from all around the world. Too many people! The second photo is from a time when I decided to seek out a path less traveled; stay tuned — perhaps tomorrow I’ll post photos of a cool slot canyon, the path to which was blocked off by warning signs:

Such surreal hoodoos!

The crowds descending the switch-backed pack into the depths of the canyon — this circumstance induced me to find another way:

The wi-fi server here is unreliable; it took three tries to get these images uploaded to WordPress.com. Also, I’m typing in the dark, so perhaps tomorrow morning I’ll get some more images uploaded!

Larry

Arches National Park

It’s a chilly morning here in Socorro,New Mexico. I am taking my ease in a tent pitched in an RV campground on the edge of town, swaddled in a sleeping bag and taking advantage of the wi-fi access this place provides. I’m waiting for a new head gasket to be installed in my truck,and as I wait I’ve been looking through the photos I’ve shot during the past couple of weeks.

On our meandering journey to the East Bev and I spent several days in Utah, visiting choice localities which she wanted to share with me. I was eagerly anticipating a visit to Arches National Park, just north of Moab. The park was disagreeably crowded, but the splendor of the sandstone formations more than made up for the crowded conditions. I envy Edward Abbey, who served as a ranger in the park back when it was a National Monument and could only be accessed via a gravel road.

As I processed some of my photos I realized that I hadn’t included a single arch! There is so much to see in that park, and for me, the arches, while beautiful and photogenic, paled before some of the other formations.

Have a look at the park through my eyes:

Most of these formations have been given colloquial names, an effort by human observers to make sense of such mind-boggling sights. I shun these names. These formations don’t need names; they are eons-old structures which will be continuing to slowly weather away when the human race is but a distant memory.

We were fortunate–the skies were blue with photogenic clouds during our visit.

A stone lion?

I do enjoy vast landscapes,but my personal bent leans towards more intimate scenes. Here is a miniature canyon among the fossilized sand dunes:

King of the hoodoo tribe:

Okay,I just have to include one arch!

Larry

An Isolated Tall-grass Prairie Preserve

The areas and landscapes of this planet can be divided into two categories: regions which have been inhabited by humans since time immemorial, and those areas which have only endured human exploitation for just a few hundred years,a brief period considered from a long view, a perspective which doesn’t come naturally to us, but which can be learned.

This dichotomy has been known for some time as the distinction between the Old World and the New World. For someone attuned to the natural world as it existed for thousands of years before humanity’s tenure and control, the differences are striking. In the Old World the evidences of just what the world might have looked like, what ecological communities might have flourished thousands of years ago, are not immediately evident. All but the most marginal landscapes have undergone drastic changes as a series of human communities have occupied them and derived benefits which have resulted in massive changes in plant and animal populations.

Here in North America the changes are more recent, although the technological advances of the past century or so have accelerated the changes immensely. Still,in many parts of this continent an observer can see landscapes which aren’t all that different from what the early pioneers encountered. It all boils down to economics: if someone could make money from a parcel of land, in all but a few cases they did; it is our God-given right, after all!

In the central states, full of fertile plains just ripe for intensive exploitation, few areas were spared the plow. A few scraps of land were saved during the twentieth century, and they are now the sole remnants of a chain of ecosystems which once covered millions of acres.

As Bev and I drove across Kansas it occurred to me that we would enter Missouri near one of the preserved fragments of tall-grass prairie, Prairie State Park. The sun was low and we were needing a place to camp for the night.

The park is located north of Joplin, Missouri, near a part of Kansas where my father’s grandfather once had a farm. As we drove over a cattle-guard I realized that most of the park is surrounded by an eight-foot electric fence, necessary due to the herds of buffalo and elk which live there. I was reminded of the movie “Jurassic Park”.

We pulled into a camp-site located in bottom-land woodland. As I climbed out of the van the distinctive scent of moist humus caught my attention, an odor which revived memories of the years I spent in rural Missouri.

Some photos from that short visit:

One of the common trees of Midwest creek-bottoms is the hackberry, a relative of the elms which few people recognize. The bark of the hackberry tree is layered, and I was reminded of the layers of sandstone in the canyons of the Southwest:

Along the camp-site access road I spotted a fungus friend, a species of Coprinus which feeds on dead woody tissue. This clump of Inky-caps was quietly digesting the roots of a tree-stump:

The next morning we packed up the van, making sure the collies had peed, and drove out of the park. We stopped at an overlook site and trail-head, thinking that perhaps the buffalo herd might be visible. There they were, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. I walked out onto the prairie, which was just beginning to grow. I kept in mind the warnings on the signs in the park, which advised visitors to stay three hundred feet away from the beasts, and let us know that buffaloes can run much faster than we can.

The herd grazing during a warm April morning, and the sentinel bull keeping a wary eye on me:

Bev had followed me on the trail — I suspect that she thought I might get too close to the herd. I did prudently turn around before I alarmed the beasts, and I took this photo of her walking back to the van:

I hope some day to return to that park; it has the reputation of being a great place to witness the booming of the prairie chickens!

Larry

An Unexpected New Mexico Walk

or “A Rangeland Encounter”.

Yesterday I was eating up the miles driving through central New Mexico, on my way back to Bisbee, Arizona. Such vast expanses of dry short-grass grazing land! The tufted bunchgrasses were interspersed with clumps of sage and yucca. I could imagine the thoughts of the pioneers moving slowly along the Santa Fe Trail, as they wondered how long these bleak treeless wastes would last before more inviting landscapes for settlement appeared.

My 23-year-old Ford truck had been running smoothly for the past thousand miles, but the engine seemed to be running a bit hotter than usual, a cause for concern out there where cell-phone coverage is spotty at best and towns were few and often abandoned.

A few miles west of Vaughn my temperature gauge became alarmed and I pulled over. I had jugs of water, but I thought that I should pull over and let the engine cool down for a while.

Here’s a shot of my truck by the side of the road:

On the opposite side of Rt. 60 a train track parallels the highway across much of the central portion of the state. I was intrigued by the long trains which periodically rumbled by. Often they had three locomotives pulling the chain of cars, and the train cars often seemed to be carrying cargo containers from China. I wondered what port they were coming from. A typical train:

Making the best of the forced delay, I decided to take a walk. I walked up the highway with my camera as occasional RVs and pickup trucks whooshed past. I could see some structures in the distance and my curiosity was aroused. After about one-quarter of a mile I came to a cattleguard, a welcome interruption in the tightly-strung fence. I had considered climbing over that fence, but it wasn’t an easily crossed fence and I would have risked tearing my clothing.

The name of the ranch:

It was a breezy and cool day, a pleasant time for a walk up a desolate road. One of the structures I had seen earlier turned out to be a round stone water tank, an old tank which had been replaced with a steel one nearby. Nearby was the weathered-silver trunk of a large tree, one which evidently had flourished in a wetter period. Trees were noticeably absent from the landscape.

A root-prong of that tree which has been rubbed to a glossy sheen by the scratching actions of generations of cattle:

The stone water tank can be seen in the background of the above photo.

I walked farther along the road. There was something a half-mile away, but I couldn’t tell what it was — a ruined building, or a stack of hay, perhaps? As I walked I noticed a large mammal in the distance. It looked like a prong-horn antelope. As I came closer I could tell that the animal was keeping an eye on me. I wasn’t walking directly towards it and I got fairly close before it spooked and bounded away. I snapped this photo in which the antelope seems to be peeing:

The structure I had seen from the highway turned out to be a ruined stone house. I wonder when it had last been occupied? Someone, at some point, had stuccoed two of the walls but the project had been left unfinished. Such a picturesque sight under the vast high country sky!

Just two walls remained standing. It seems that various creatures used the walls as shelter from the persistent winds, and one had died there:

Other animals had been using the remains as a favored defecation site, including one who seems to subsist upon some sort of berry. The ribcage cradles a substantial pile of scat.

The house had been built upon a slight rise, and two ancient mesquite trees are growing out front. A view of the trees from a gap in the wall, and an April shoot trying to eke out another year in this dry and dusty site:

A raptor of some sort, perhaps an eagle, had built a twig nest in the branches of one of the mesquites:

I walked back to the highway; my truck had cooled down, so I added water to the radiator and proceeded on my way. Sometimes a forced stop can yield a novel experience!

Larry

Across The High Plains

Driving, driving — it gets old making my across this vast continent. Large cities are a necessary evil to be endured, all of the endless mazes of interstate convolutions to be negotiated, the price one pays for rapid travel.

After a few days in Quincy, Illinois, where I retrieved my truck, gathered up some abandoned possessions, and visited my folks, I headed west and south again. Bev got to meet my parents during our stay. We stayed in a state park across the river in Missouri.

Oklahoma is quite a broad state! I could feel the climate changing as I drove across the rolling spring-green plains, becoming dryer and higher. Indian Paintbrushes (Castilleja species, parasites upon grass roots) graced the sides of the turnpike. How unfortunate that stopping for a closer look is frowned upon!

I was parked at a McDonalds in the commercial wastelands surrounding Oklahoma City yesterday afternoon, taking advantage of free coffee and wi-fi access. I lingered by my truck in the parking lot as the whooshes and whirs of incessant traffic filled my ears. In a grassy median strip planted with sorry-looking honey-locusts I saw a splash of cream-colored ovals in the grass:

Mushrooms always lift my spirits, as they are so unpredictable in their appearances, just like people in a way. Evidently a small dog had chosen the mushroom patch as a suitable spot for defecation; two small dog turds defiled the patch. The patch will no doubt flourish in the future.

I plucked a mushroom; it seemed to be a large, robust species of Agaricus, probably the Horse Mushroom, Agaricus arvensis. The gills had the characteristic pink tones:

I was intrigued by the height of these mushrooms, which seemed to grow only as high as the sweep of the mower’s blades. Horse mushrooms in undisturbed habitats typically grow taller; perhaps the species has evolved a sub-species adapted to frequently-mowed lawns, Agaricus arvensis subspecies mcdonaldensis.

I took a nice profile shot which shows the partial veil and the jaunty cocked aspect of the cap:

A large battered flatbed 3/4-ton truck pulled up beside me. A large compressor-like machine was strapped to the bed. A sixty-ish man climbed down from the cab; he looked weatherbeaten and wore a stained feed-cap. I approached him:

“So is that a compressor in your truck?”

“Naw, that’s a vacuum pump. Lotta gas wells around here, and much of the machinery dates back to the late twenties. Maintaining them keeps me busy!”

I returned to regarding my anomalous fungi…

Larry

Weird Kansas Scenes

The process of driving across Kansas has a deserved bad reputation; a series of flat and monotonous vistas interrupted by sad-looking little towns never fails to cause my spirits to falter. I try to like Kansas, as some of my ancestors were farmers in the east end of the state, but I can’t help but think that the existence of states such as Kansas and Nebraska might have been an incentive for the airline industry in its early days.

The west half is the most harrowing. Desolate feedlots oppress the spirits as the land imperceptibly tilts down from the high point near the Colorado border. In the east half of Kansas the terrain varies more. The entire Flint Hills section is a balm to the eyes, with vistas of rolling prairies never broken by the plow. The possibility of seeing prairie chickens adds interest to the drive.

As we drove on I-70 I scanned maps and brochures, looking for a reasonably pleasant place to camp for the night. We had stopped at a determinedly-cheery Visitors Center and picked up printed promotional material, and they even had a good wi-fi connection.

One brochure amused me; it was about a tiny state park called Mushroom Rock. Peculiar mushroom-shaped sandstone formations looked rather quaint in the photos compared to the grand hoodoos of Utah’s red-rock country, but according to the brochure Kit Carson had called the spot his “favorite little place”. I was charmed by this evidently old photo in the brochure — two people encountering one of the “mushrooms”:

As we drove on endlessly my imagination was inflamed by the periodic recurrence of sequential signs advertising an animal oddity attraction:

The largest prairie dog in the world! What could it be like? I imagined a bloated hormone-fed rodent, so fat it could barely stand up, blearily eyeing tourists through the bars of its cage. A sign warns: “Don’t feed the prairie dog! He bites!”

A wicked little child, bored by hours of driving, tosses pebbles at the prairie dog’s nose. The sleepy beast darts a fierce glance at the boy, snarls, bursts through the bars, and goes on a rampage. Tourists flee as cars are overturned. The shambling beast heads for the nearest town, gobbling up a stray steer or two and leaving steaming dung-piles on the freeway.

Another series of signs appears and I snap out of my Kansas horror-flick reverie. Hmm, look at this one:

A five-legged steer, and it’s alive! What fun watching the animal attempt to walk. Petting baby pigs would be a pleasant diversion after watching an unfortunate deformed cow, I imagine!

The next sign offers a plethora of animals — what a menagerie the place must be!

I imagine the fox has designs on the peacock, as the buffalo wearily looks on from his pen and dreams of ancestral glory on the high plains.

There was one sign in the series I wish I had captured. I was so amused by the invitation to meet Roscoe the Miniature Donkey! I could picture that donkey with a straw hat on with holes cut in the brim to accommodate the ears.

Such sights and thoughts make the miles just roll on by!

Larry