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,, 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.”,,, 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,,  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