Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Benson Arizona: Chiricahua National Monument and Bisbee

After a slow start to the morning, we stopped at Denny's for breakfast about 8:30. I had my recently discovered favourite, the Slamwich. Then we headed east in I-10 aiming for the Chiricahua National Monument and the historic town of Bisbee. It was 78 miles to the monument but we only made fifteen before I pulled off at the Texas Canyon Rest Area to admire the granite formations. We had already climbed over 1,000 feet from Benson.

At the rest area, we met a young man from Montreal traveling in a 1992 school bus painted silver. He and his dog had been on the road for a year and a half, first crossing Canada to work on the Vancouver Winter Olympics and then moving down the coast from place to place. He spent three months in Slab City and was surprised we knew where it was. He was now eager to get home.

Texas Canyon rock formations

Homesick Montrealer and best friend

Back on I-8, we passed a fifth wheel hauling one of Ryan Newman's show cars. We exchanged thumbs ups with the driver and then continued on to Willcox, where Wrong Turn turned us around to check out the Chiricahua Regional Museum and Gift Shop.  It was run by James Lewis Amalong, namesake of his grandfather who established a business hauling freight to the chain of army forts along the trail near here. James was raised in the Chiricahua Mountains near the Monument. Some of the exhibits dealt with the Chiricahua Apache and told the story of how natives under Mangas Coloradas, Cochise and Geronimo were repeatedly tricked and cheated by US government representatives including the army. We also found out that Warren Baxter Earp, younger brother of Wyatt, was shot back in 1900 in a bar that used to stand a half block down the street. He is buried near here, the only Earp to be laid  to rest in Arizona.

Ryan Newman hauler

The Chiricahua Regional Museum and Gift Shop - Willcox Arizona

From Willcox, we rode southeast on Arizona 186 through the Sulphur Spring Valley, where the desert gave way to dry grasslands. From a distance, we could see the twin peaks of Dos Cabezas (Two Heads) before turning left on Arizona 181 and moving up into the Chiricahua Mountains to the Chiricahua National Monument.

Dos Cabezas Peaks

The north end of a southbound cow eating a prickly pear cactus

Grasslands of the Sulphur Springs Valley

The Chiricahua National Monument Visitor Center

Rock formations at the Visitor Center

Birds will take water wherever they can find it

WT and I flashed our National Park Passes, good for free admission to the Monument. WT also bought a Park Passport like we have to record visits by stamping them at each location. This will become important later. We talked to a ranger about the rhyolite formations. The Turkey Creek Volcano, a supervolcano estimated to be 1,000 times the magnitude of Mount Saint Helen's, blew enough hot ash in the air that it settled, congealed and formed the mineral that eroded to give us the amazing formations we see today. This sounds very similar to the event that created the formations between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flats.

From the Visitor Center, we rode the 6.8 miles up Bonita Canyon Drive to Massai Point, 6,800 feet above sea level. Along the way, we saw amazing rhyolite towers.

Formations along Bonita Canyon Drive

And more formations

At Massai Point, we walked down a path to a rock viewing platform and were amazed at the fields of towers before us.

Chiricahua National Monument, Sulphur Springs Valley and the Dragoon Mountains in the background

View from Massai Point

My favourite person

Wrong Turn looking for good angles

And shooting us from concealment

A small sky island

Sandy saw a face in this (I saw something else)

At Massai Point, while WT and KT were off taking pictures, Sandy and I encountered a group dressed in boots, jeans, big belt buckles, vests and Stetsons. They were all speaking German. There was one Indian man and I told him I knew he was a local because he was wearing a ball cap. It turns out the tourists were staying at a very upscale dude ranch near Tombstone and the man in the cap was their bus driver. He also guides the tour to Cochise Stronghold. We talked about many things and, when I found out he was Yaqui instead of Apache, I had a chance to learn more about the peyote ceremonies. I was quite impressed with his dedication to the ways of his forefathers and enjoyed the talk.

When the photography was done, we headed on down and followed Arizona 181 south to Elfrida where the Vulcan needed fuel. While in the gas station, we got talking to a local rancher who suggested (we hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was getting late) that the fare at the Longhorn steakhouse down the street was pretty good. He even came down and introduced us to the owner, who was out back getting ready for a rodeo they were hosting next week. The rancher had sold his cattle at auction because they haven't had rain in over a year and both hay and feed lotting were too expensive. The Longhorn food was as good as he said it was.

The snag of the day happened when WT reached for his regular glasses and realized he must have left them back at the Monument Visitor Center when he was stamping his new Passport book.  Remember I said the book would be important.  The park was just closing now so there was no chance of going back and he wasn't able to reach them on the phone.  He and KT resolved to go back tomorrow and try to find them.

Longhorn Steakhouse - Elfrida Arizona

Steers practicing for the rodeo

Gary, the Longhorn owner, getting in some saddle time

Perhaps Biker can explain what a Cheryl Crisp is

It was getting late as we left Elfrida headed for Bisbee. I took some back roads to take a more direct route and bypass Douglas. We rolled into Bisbee about 5:00 PM. and stopped to get photos at the Lavender Open Pit. This steep walled pit was operated by Phelps Dodge for 244 years starting in 1950 and produced 600,000 tons of copper plus by-products.

Open headframe - Bisbee Arizona

Lavender Pit - Bisbee Arizona

WT said he had never seen anything like the tailings and slag piled around but I felt right at home. We moved on to the historic downtown and parked. WT, KT and Sandy went to get some photos of the Copper Queen Hotel while I stayed behind and got talking to a local biker. Sandy came back and joined the conversation. After a while, WT and KT joined us.

Bisbee Post Office

Copper Queen Hotel - Bisbee Arizona

This looks like a hoist pulley

Main Street - Bisbee Arizona

The sun was going behind the mountains as we left Bisbee, hitting 6,000' elevation as we charged through Mule Pass Tunnel and started down. Way down. We were conscious of the dangers of riding at dusk and, right near the turnoff to Fort Huachuca (I thought of you, Normand) we saw two small deer nibbling along the right side of the road. Then, after we hit the floor of the valley and I thought deer wouldn't like to live here, we saw three javelinas, two adults and a youngster, just off the left shoulder. As it got darker, I cut back the speed and relied on the powerful Wing headlight system to alert is to any more wildlife, but there were no more.

From the floor of the San Pedro Valley, the setting sun was doing strange things to the mountains to the east. Unfortunately, I had suggested Sandy put the camera in the trunk. It is all my fault that we have no spectacular photos to share.

Through Tombstone, we picked up three bikes behind us. At the Border Patrol checkpoint, they waved me through and WT followed. The other three didn't and WT said the agent had stepped in front of them and stopped them. Since I was doing 10 MPH less than the limit in the dark, they soon caught back up with and passed us.

We arrived back in Benson about 7:15 PM and found that we had new neighbors on both sides of us. We spent the evening talking and my blog fell further behind but I can do that any time. We were able to reach the National Monument on the phone and confirm that WT's glasses were there.  Their ride back tomorrow should be better knowing that the specs are actually there.

WT said he was pretty sure their photography drove Sherm nuts on some of their rides and was concerned that we were stressed as well. I told him these last few days were good riding and we were there to see what we could see. I also suggested that I probably wouldn't be able to take their pace on a cross country run:-))

We ended up getting to bed a little later than usual, tired out by a very interesting day.

Today's Route (208 motorcycle miles):

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