In Spirit Canyon

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April 2, 2017, Prescott- The second good part about yesterday, after being treated to a lunch prepared with love and caring, was a hike in the upper reaches of Queen Creek Canyon.  The trail I took lies about a mile or so east of Oak Flat.  A sign, at the bridge over Queen Creek, refers to Devil’s Canyon.  I would rather use the name Spirit Canyon, in the same vein as those, who love Wyoming’s iconic towering butte, use the name Spirit Tower.

So, there I was, again almost totally alone, with the gathering wind and dark, but high clouds, and one Arizona gray squirrel.  The canyon is as magnificent here, as it is closer to town.  The trail here leads up to the feet of the Pinal Mountains, which include Picket Post Mountain, on their western edge.

As always, one can imagine the rhyolite spires as fortresses and sentinels.

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This scrunchy-faced sentinel was “alert”.

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This rock almost reminded me of ribbon candy.

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Wild flowers, while still sparse, are popping up in bunches, here and there.

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Atop the canyon, alligator junipers take over from cacti, oaks and mesquite.

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The Pinal Mountains lie ahead, across a trail-less expanse of about two miles.

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As if to say “Heads up, there are fiery days ahead”, a small patch of Mexican Firecracker greeted me, as I got close to my car, at the end of the hike.

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Whether the days ahead are tranquil or turbulent, I know that I have plenty of friends, both human and spirit, in the vast expanse, of which Arizona is a central part.

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part XIX: Two Kinds of Heaven

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March 14, 2017, Superior-  I was invigorated, despite it being an afternoon during the Fast, once the High Trail came into view.  This fairly easy trail first led down into Queen Creek Canyon, and past an old, abandoned Pump House.

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The energetic and happy family ahead of me were already planning to bounce along the bridge that crossed Queen Creek and take on the ridge, which gives High Trail its name.  I was more than glad to follow suit.  As they bounced up and down, in unison, I lingered behind, to take in the fragrance of some Texas Scarlet, and view upwards, at the rhyolite which Queen Creek seems to have thrust upwards.

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Then, it was time to do a bit of jumping of my own.

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Queen Creek was still, on this gorgeous afternoon.

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The views eastward, however, were an extra delight- the rugged edges of a particular heaven.

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I was able to get one more, long-distance view of Picket Post House, before heading back down into the canyon.

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Obsidian accompanies rhyolite, as one heads towards the Australian exhibit.

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After one last look at the rhyolite “castles”, for today, I headed back towards the Arboretum.

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There are two greenhouses, on the western edge of the park.  These house plants that are still delicate, primarily from the “cone” of South America and from southern and eastern Africa.

Mammilaria are the main feature of Green House 1.

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Euphorbia, and aloe, dominate Green House 2.  The first shows plants from Madagascar, which, like the U.S. has a rugged desert Southwest.

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These plants are from the equally rugged southwest of the Arabian Peninsula.

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With that, I exited Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  My return,  in the first days of April, will be in no small part due to  a special soul, working in this little bit of heaven.  SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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Nature and friendship are what keep me going, as many in Prescott, and elsewhere, know.

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part XVIII: Queen Creek, as A Moat

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March 14, 2017, Superior- After an intensive review of the desert plants, with which I have become so well familiar, thanks to both Boyce Thompson Arboretum and its sister institution, Desert Botanical Garden, I headed up along the High Trail, to have a look at Picket Post House’s exterior (the house doesn’t re-open for visits, until either next year or 2019), and  Ayer Lake, a small reservoir that was drawn from Queen Creek, for the purpose of attracting water fowl and aquatic reptiles.

High Trail goes between  Ayer Lake and Picket Post House, then loops around to the west and south, along the eastern base of Picket Post Mountain.  The first twenty minutes of my hike, on this relatively easy trail, found me in a wealth of company- it being Spring Break for Arizona schools.  There were birders galore, at  Ayer Lake, teen girls with selfie sticks, on the rocks above the reservoir and adventurous boys, who followed me in exploring a couple of ledges, overlooking a western spur of Queen Creek Gorge.  The parents of the kids were close by, enjoying the relative comfort of the thatched-roof ramada.

Here are further scenes of this very full visit.   Ayer Lake, rather still on this mild day, has at least one resident turtle, and several Black Phoebes, enjoying the cold water.

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I saw a couple Red-tailed hawks circling around, as well.  They are said to nest in the rhyolite boulders, which abound in this park that was built from nature, not imposed on it.

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This overlook was most popular with the girls.

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Of course, it had the best view of the reservoir.

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Speckled and striated rhyolite, between lake and mansion, testify to the presence of both copper and iron, in the area.

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Picket Post House itself looms just above these boulders, and almost seems protected by the creek and canyon, which loop around its northern and western flanks.

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The boys and I saw this hint of the coming spring, from the canyon’s edge.

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Here was a sight that caused the boys to turn back from the overlook.

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Picket Post House, seen from a southwestern vantage point, shows its retaining wall.

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I look forward to seeing the place, in its full magnificence, once it becomes part of the park’s exhibits, a year or two hence.

Next up:  The High Trail’s western course.

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part XVI: Spirits and Graffiti

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March 14, 2017, Superior-  SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Some call the place Devil’s Canyon.  Others prefer Spirit Canyon.  Folks like me look at it, and Queen Creek Gorge, it is.  There seem to be at least three canyons, branching off.  The one I checked out, from the highway rim, is between Superior and the Oak Flat turnoff.  It includes the high bridge over Queen Creek and a maze of rhyolite spires, reminding me of southeast Nevada’s Cathedral Gorge.

Bored local youths have, over the years, added their signatures, hopes and dreams to the pillars.  Most are mildly irritating, to those who seek solace, on the canyon’s edge.  One, though, is a statement that most of us can appreciate.

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For the greater part, though, Queen Creek Gorge is a major delight, for hikers and rock climbers, alike.  It accounts for a good number of the campers who flock to Oak Flat.  On my next visit to Superior, I want to spend a key part of the time checking out the creek bed itself.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES It also looks as if there is a ridge that could accommodate the hiker.

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I always imagine the various face-like features of the sandstone spires, as if they were gargoyles.

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Afternoon shadows mask what the stand-alone spire might resemble.

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These three appear rather comical, yet ever watchful.

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This one, I call Joe Palooka, because he probably isn’t into any funny business.

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The scene on the north side of Highway 60 is every bit as amazing.  I saw an offbeat George Washington, in the figure to the right.

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After about ten minutes of contemplation, it was time to bid adieu to the many spirits who seem to be inhabiting this compact, but extraordinary, canyon system.

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Next up-  Boyce Thompson Arboretum:  The Regional Exhibits

 

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part XV: Free Souls Abound

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March 13, 2017, Oak Flat, AZ-

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES The young couple were a bit taken aback, as I returned to the campsite, where my tent was set up.  They hushed their small, annoyed dog, as I explained I had been at the campsite for a while and had gone to town for dinner.  As they were car-camping, and the campground is free, we were all fine with each other’s presence.  Besides, after some banter, I left them alone, and was content to watch the stars and think loving thoughts. The campground reflected those back.

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Before all this, as there were about 45 minutes until sundown, I took a stroll along an easy trail that led south and west from the campground.  A free spirit, whose own goal was explore all the National Forests west of the Mississippi, had pointed me in the direction of a spring, which he said was a good two hours’ hike from here.  I took the stone path out of the campground and shortly found remnants of another of General Stoneman’s outposts.

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Rhyolite and obsidian abound, in this part of Arizona, as you will see further in “Devils Canyon” (I prefer the name, Queen Creek Gorge, but to each their own.)

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Stone walls were built to last, in the 1870’s.

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I like to pay respects at  memorials to the local departed, wherever I go.  This cross honours the wife of an Oak Flat native.

The campground is of further interest to me, because there is a controversy over just how extensively a planned underground copper mine will be allowed to run, underneath this immediate area.  There are concerns about depleting the water table and about creating a giant sinkhole, under the current campground.  There is some debate, even among Native Americans, as to the sacredness of the site to the Apache Nation.  Several protesters have set up a camp, within the campground, featuring traditional Apache dwellings, called wikieup.  The environmental and archaeological concerns are valid, as is the need for work, among the residents of Superior and outlying areas.  I would probably favour a scaled back mining enterprise, with careful attention to the water table and to honouring any burial sites that may be found.

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A Rim Country Saturday, Part 3: Mr. Gowan’s Haven.

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November 8, 2014, Strawberry, AZ- Like many new arrivals in the American West, in the mid-19th Century, David Gowan, a native of Scotland, headed to California, to take part in the “Gold Rush”.  As the California lodes played themselves out, he headed to Arizona, in the hope of finding more.  As mentioned earlier in this series, Payson, where Mr. Gowan ended up, had scant offerings in terms of rich ore. To make matters worse, he was pursued by angry Apaches in the area.  He managed to escape northward, and in the process of navigating Pine Canyon, found a natural bridge.  There, he hid in a cave for three days.

David found a small, but profitable, lode of gold ore, along the East Verde River, west of the natural bridge, and homesteaded atop the bridge itself.  The rich soil allowed him to farm successfully, and the place became a comfortable home for his family, some of whom later turned the farm into a tourist site.  The home built by David Goodfellow, Mr. Gowan’s nephew, is still there today, and is the lodge for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Here are several photos of the rim and canyon, into which I hiked in the afternoon of this splendid day.  The granite and rhyolite made for some slick hiking, especially where Tonto Creek was flowing, and the mist dripping off the natural bridge gave those of us below a refreshing shower, of sorts.  First, is the terrain of the canyon rim.

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Rhyolite is quite common, throughout the park.

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I made my way quickly down a narrow path, to the canyon floor.

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A view of the natural bridge was not long in coming.  It is recognized as the longest travertine (slick limestone) natural bridge in the world.

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Here are a couple of close-ups of the porous granite.  In the second frame, you can see an observation deck.

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A lovely pool below the bridge, lends a grotto-like effect to the scene.

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Boulder-hopping was necessary, in order to explore the length of the canyon bottom.  A bit past this area, I found the trail became obscure.  A ranger who was there said that the trail was a series of hand and foot holds, which were probably better done on day when there was more time.  Seeing that I only had twenty minutes to get back up top, I turned around, and left the rough climb out, for another day.

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In the meantime, here are some views of the sky, from underneath Tonto Natural Bridge.

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A look downward, as I was climbing out in the late afternoon glow, had its own magic.

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Finally, here is a look at the Natural Bridge’s ceiling.  Lichen is abundant, in the crevices of the granite.

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