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May 232010

We were fortunate to be invited to hike Ed Wagner’s Rincon Ranch along with the Arizona Trailblazers, a Phoenix based hiking club, www.azhikers.org. Kay Lyons, Ed’s significant other, is a friend and knew we’d enjoy the outing. We had heard about Ed’s ranch for a while now. This was the opportunity we had been waiting for.Rincon Ranch evolved over many years when Bert Cox, the original rancher, began acquiring land in the early 1900s. He accumulated and consolidated a number of ranches in eastern New Mexico. Ed bought it in 2000 primarily as a retreat; thirty-two square miles of retreat. Ed spent his career in factory management, principally for Intel. Upon retirement, he began looking for land in the west and through a friend, happened upon this vast stretch of canyons and mesas just east of the Arizona border.The view from the lodge.

The land is dry; no year round or seasonal creeks, but it contains abundant flora and fauna. Piñons, Junipers, Ponderosas and Cypress grow profusely in the canyons and on the mesas. Fox, Badger, Bobcat, Bear, Coyote, Deer, and Mountain Lions, even Mexican Wolves, call it home. Herds of Elk roam freely, allowing Ed to bag a huge, six point bull last fall.

Ed is working to return the flatlands of the ranch from over-grazed ranch land into a wildlife preserve. He’s adding dirt tanks, wells, and access roads. Ed’s dream is to develop the ranch as a destination for hiking, mountain biking and trail riding as well as a hunting destination during the fall hunting seasons.

Rincon Ranch Lodge

At night, not a single light can be seen from the spacious lodge Ed built to host groups. The night sky at 7,000 feet is as black and star-filled as anywhere in the west. As well, silence is profound. Not a sound can be heard save that of the occasional breeze moving among the trees or the distant calls of a pack of coyotes.

Matate, Mano and Pottery Shards atop Porter’s Knob

For centuries, Indians from the Membres and Zuni tribes lived on and migrated across this land of abundant wildlife, berries and roots. Their footpaths enabled trading between villages.

Rincon Ranch lies on the Colorado Plateau, once sea floor millennia ago. It is now uplifted over a mile above sea level. Hikers have come across pieces of petrified wood from the ancient forests that covered the area when it was not covered by oceans.

Erosion has created vertical cliffs of red and golden sandstone and exposed deposits of coal and pure white limestone. Relatively recent volcanic activity can be found in volcanic pipes that spewed lava and pyroclastic flows across the landscape millennia ago.

Zuni Canyon

Looking into Zuni Canyon with Porter’s Knob in the distance

A six-hour drive finishing with eight miles of good gravel road brought us to the lodge. Having car pooled, a group already was ensconced in the kitchen preparing dinner or going over topo maps, planning tomorrow’s hike. From the first, everybody was convivial. Kay showed Yolanda and I our room whose windows took in a dramatic panorama looking down into a canyon and far out to distant mountains toward the southeast.

Everyone shared food as well as the cooking and cleaning. Kay had come up with a bit of a schedule as people offered to bring their favorite dishes. With dinner over and we turned in early in anticipation of tomorrows hike.

Breakfast was at seven but not realizing the time change, Yolanda and I made it down at eight. No worries. No one was upset and we quickly ate and prepared for our first day of scouting trails. The goal today was to hike Perry Canyon to where a wash came off the mesa; find a good way back up onto the mesa and then back to the lodge.

The beginning of the hike into Perry Canyon

Wendy checking her GPS and setting a waypoint.

Several of the group had GPS’s. They set waypoints as we hiked allowing our track to be saved and a map of the trail made. As we gradually descended, the richness and diversity of the land was evident. Large Ponderosa Pines towered over the wash, dense stands of Piñon Pines grew in wild profusion; a Bobcat’s delicate step left imprints in the sand.

Gary and Ed checking the map, trying to figure out where we turn to go up the correct wash.

Michael helping Carlton place a flag as Bill ties another at the entrance to the wash.

Turning up a small wash, not the one we were looking for as it turns out, we eventually climbed our way up to the expansive views provided by one of the mesas. It being lunchtime, we stopped, ate, and christened the spot Trailblazer Point.

Trailblazer Point

We made rock cairns and flagged the path along the mesa top through the maze of widely spaced trees. Tiring of the flats, we found a way down into another wash where we spotted a four-foot snake, not a rattler thank goodness. As the wash narrowed and got choked with fallen trees, we found our way out and onto one of the access roads Ed had built. This being the Windmill Road, leading to a site planned for a wind energy farm.

Michael, Wendy, Carlton Yolanda, Kay, Wendy, Bill and Linda at a dramatic overlook to the southeast as we connected to the Windmill Road.

A short mile walk took us back to the lodge. After our slow five miles and about five hours of hiking, many took naps or simply relaxed and read until dinner.

Soup is the planned meal. One woman brought a wonderful lentil and bean soup and I brought split pea soup. Along with salad, cornbread, wine and the wonderful company, we had a great meal. Especially when it was followed by Yolanda’s deliciously tart lemon chess pie. With the table cleared and dishes done, it was time for games before bed.

The next morning saw another beautiful, blue-sky day. Today’s hike was to be along the cliffs of the penisula above Zuni Canyon to a knob with panoramic views and Native American artifacts. From there we were to then find a way down into the canyon and end up in the small box canyon Kay calls the Swimming Pool.

Kay and Michael along the edge of Zuni Canyon at the beginning of the hike.

The weather was lovely, perfect temperature for hiking. We quickly found our way to the cliff edge, following its zigs and zags while watching the other side of the wide canyon for wildlife. Making cairns and tying trail markers on trees as we hiked led us to an interesting wave formation where the rocks had eroded in sweeping curves.Kay and Ed entering The Wave.

Gary, Carlton, Kay, Linda and Bill taking a snack break atop The Wave.

Looking to the northeast and The Hermitage (lower left), a cabin built for retreats, from the knob.

Lunchtime again brought us to Porter’s Knob, a spot with sweeping views. The Indians had obviously used this knob in the past. Several matates, grinding stones, lay about as did numerous pottery shards, some with intricate black and white designs and obvious very old. It is easy to imagine hunting parties coming to this spot over the centuries. With its panoramic views to the south, west and north, it would’ve been easy to spot game, while an abundance of nuts and berries provided sustenance.

Following lunch, we had to find a way off the knob and into the canyon. Again, marking trail as we went, I found a slight depression that led to a part of the cliff from which rock falls had filled in a way down. After only the smallest drop of 3-4 feet, we were able to pick our way among the rockfall eventually leading us to a nose of soft dirt and shale, allowing a relatively easy access to the canyon bottom.

Kay making the drop on the route down into Zuni Canyon.

Gary, with Wendy and Bill behing, negotiating the rockfall after the drop.

The nose of soft shales and the route into the canyon above.

From here, it was an easy, flat hike as the canyon gradually narrowed into a winding, sandy wash that took us to the swimming pool in no time. This is a true box canyon and the steep canyon end, though not very high, stopped our progress. Water from the previous week’s snowfall filled a small tank carved into the cliffs and forlorn pools beneath overhangs provided water for the animals.

Kay, as the canyon narrows, leading the way toward the Swimming Pool.

Bill, at the deep end of the Swimming Pool, trying to figure a way out.

Backtracking a hundred yards or so, led us to an easy route out of the Swimming Pool and onto the road above, where our vehicles waited, returning us to the lodge.

Michael and Bill looking into The Deep End. Rocks that Bill and Carlton carried and set up as a possible step are below the small tank of water.

Dinner that night was from Ed’s 6-point bull. Elk meat is so very lean. Not one bit of fat. Having been prepared properly immediately after it had been killed, there was not a hint of gaminess; just rich, flavorful protein.

The final morning, everyone gathered his or her things. Some were leaving later in the day staying to do another hike. We left after breakfast, making the long drive back to Scottsdale.

From left to right bottom to top: Debbie, me, Kay, Linda Gary, Ed, Bill, Wendy, Michael, Wendy, Yolanda and Carlton.

It was a truly rewarding few days. Not only did we experience a part of the west few people, other than the ancients, ever get to see, but we made good friends as well. Yolanda and I are looking forward to our next sojourn in Scottsdale and hooking up again with the Arizona Trailblazers. There are many new places to explore and new areas, reachable only by foot, to experience.

Ed and Kay along the rim of Zuni Canyon.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

May 112010

Rattlesnake Crafts and Historic Tombstone

Mike Benjamin and Zeke.

After three lovely days of perfect spring weather in Chiracauhua National Monument, we move on to historic Tombstone, Arizona of shootout at the OK Corral fame. On the way, taking a very good gravel road thirteen miles into the desert, we stop at Rattlesnake Crafts, one of those amazing expressions of eccentric folk art found occasionally around the country.

The entrance to Rattlesnake Crafts

Rattlesnake Crafts, www.rattlesnakecrafts.com, is the home of  John and Sandy Weber who left their office jobs years ago and moved to to the middle of the desert in southeastern Arizona.They have collected thousands of old pots and pans, rifles, helmets, rocks, adding machines, branding irons, you name it. Hundreds hang from beams and could possibly be one of the worlds biggest wind chimes. The racket must be intense when the wind blows.

The couple’s hobby is not just collecting tons, literally, of odd things, but catching rattlesnakes and making crafts from the skin. A small trailer sits amidst the chaos, filled with wallets, knives, cellphone cases, key chains, and various sundry things covered with snake skin. Buying is on the honor system. Pick out what you want and put your money into an unlocked box outside the trailer.

Rattlesnake Crafts has to be unique in the world, well worth the trip into the desert.

Tombstone, “The town to tough to die.”, www.cityoftombstone.com, www.tombstone.org, is a National Historic District and National Historic Landmark. Yes, there are still gunfights at the OK Corral, staged for tourists that is.

Today though, is Founders Day. The whole town is out, the residents taking on their own old west personas. Gunfighters walk Main Street, ladies in 19th century costumes stroll carrying parasols, an old miner rides his donkey posing for photos and talking with friends. Terco Paco, “The Tombstone Bandit”, wanders in character, bandoliers crossing his chest, an old sombrero atop a mass of unkempt hair. Hugh O’Brian, Wyatt Earp from the old  50’s TV show, who, at 84, looks little like the gorgeous hunk of his earlier days, signs autographs beneath his old posters and promo pics.

Johnny Bones performs his unique music along the boardwalk.

Mike and Teresa Benjamin with Zeke.

Terco Paco-The Tombstone Bandit

Stagecoaches and surreys slowly pass by creating an authentic western mood. As I’m told, the residents dress up like this for all the major holidays. Unplanned as our travels are, they always include bits of synchronicity. Traveling to Tombstone and arriving while they are celebrating Founder’s Day is just another in a long list of wonderful experiences simply happened upon as Yolanda and I explore the world.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


May 112010

Spring in the Chiracuahuas

Sunset among the hoodoos of Chiracauhua National Monument

We spent three wonderful days in the amazing Chiracauhua mountains of southeast Arizona. Chiracauhua National Monument,http://www.nps.gov/chir/index.htm,  is a treasure trove of geological wonders. Created by a volcanic eruptions 11 million years ago, the rhyolite formations have eroded into a wonderland of massive pillars tinted by lovely chartreuse colored lichen.

A patina of chartreuse lichen covers the hoodoos

Hiking amongst the rock formations provides an ever-changing panorama of interesting shapes and vistas. Many of the hoodoos have eroded into each other creating bizarre formations. The weathered and twisted piñon pine, cedar and juniper trees add an other-worldly dimension to the landscape.

Trails are well marked, winding their way through the columns. Most are easily hiked in half a day but you can combine trails into 9-12 mile hikes and make a full day of it. A free shuttle from the visitor center and campground takes you to the trail heads of Echo Canyon and Massai Point at 6,870 feet, where most trails begin. From there, take your pick, and end up eventually descending by the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail to the visitor center. Along this trail, we watched a young or small female black bear forage on the opposite side of the valley.

Spectacular, panoramic views lay in all directions from Massai Point but those to the east and to the west descend far out into the surrounding valleys toward distant mountains.

Looking west toward the Dragoon Mountains and Cochise’s Stronghold

This being the land of Cochise, the Apache leader whose burial site is hidden within the chaos of enormous boulders in Cochise’s Stronghold across the valley to the west, it is very odd, and fitting that a mountain to the north takes on an uncanny likeness. Cochise’s Head appears as if sculpted into the craggy profile of the dead warrior. A 75-100 foot tall ponderosa pine is even poised perfectly as his eyelash. It is a strange and obvious resemblance.

Another trail to Natural Bridge takes us to a different area of the park. The five mile round trip rises through a forest of juniper, cedar and pine to a high plateau with views to the desert before dropping into Picket Park, a lovely forest of tall, widely spaced pines along a meandering, seasonal creek. At trail’s end lies Natural Bridge, a thirty feet span carved among the rocks above the small valley. This being early April, wildflowers were just beginning to blossom. Another few weeks and a little rain should bring about a spectacular display.

Bonita Canyon Campground is a lovely, peaceful spot nestled within a large grove of Oaks and Alligator Juniper. A seasonal creek runs through and trails lead to old Faraway Ranch, settled by a Swedish couple in the 1880’s, as well as to the impressive Organ Pipe Formation.

I was surprised at the availability of campsites. Spring is their high season. The campground filled up every night but with even an mid-afternoon arrival, a site could’ve been found.

This was our third trip to the Chiracauhuas.  Each trip brings something new. The entire surrounding area has much to offer and much to explore. We will return.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging