Yes, time flies when you’re having fun. Before I knew it, it was time to celebrate another birthday.
When asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I had many ideas, but there was one place that truly stood out in my mind: the Chiricahua Mountains, located in the southeast corner of Arizona. It is one of those places that I’ve always enjoyed visiting again and again, because there is so much there to see and to do. It had also been two years since our last visit, so we were due for another trip out there.
As we began to plan our adventure to the Chiricahuas, we had one very important decision to make: Mary, or no Mary? Although we almost always take her with us on our camping trips, no matter how long they are, we sometimes need to take a break from being parents and leave our little one with her grandparents for the weekend. In that case, we would only take a three-day weekend, to minimize the trauma to our child. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out in our favor, as that was the weekend that John’s cousin Richard was planning to get married in Athens, GA. Initially, Bill and Erika were going to fly to Georgia to be there for it, so John and I decided that we would take Mary with us after all. We even extended the weekend to four days, so that we would have more time to spend there.
Once we knew when we were going, we had to figure out where we were going. There are many, many places to camp in the Chiricahua Mountains, and there are also miles upon miles of hiking trails for us to do. Obviously, we were going to visit the National Monument, in order to use our National Park Pass one more time before it expired, but what else would we do? John spent every free moment that he could spare, in between school and work, trying to figure out which trails we could hike and where we could camp.
During the week leading up to our trip, we spent some time every night preparing for our trip. That included a trip to Popular Outfitters to buy something very important: a new pair of hiking boots for me. My old pair had seen better days, having been through places like Paria Canyon, West Clear Creek, and so on. Now, the leather was cracking and they were becoming increasingly uncomfortable. So, when John asked me what I wanted for my birthday, the only thing I could think of was new hiking boots. He said okay, and one week before our trip, he bought me those hiking boots: a pair of Merrells that were incredibly lightweight and very comfortable. I couldn’t wait to wear them on the trail!
On Friday, August 13 – my birthday – John and I awoke at our normal time (early) and got ready to hit the road. While he lowered the pod onto the Jeep, I loaded up all of our supplies: clothing, food box, ice chests, water, and hiking gear. Then, we woke up Mary and got her ready to go. Just before we left, though, John and Mary gave me another birthday present: a new outfit for me to wear to work. (They wanted me to open it at home, so that it wouldn’t get dirty.)
We left the house at 8:00 that morning – a bit late for us, I know, but at least the traffic wasn’t bad getting out of town. Around 9:15 or so, we stopped at the Love’s on Toltec Road for gas, so that we would have enough to make it to Willcox. It was around that time that I suddenly realized that I had left the house without paying the bills that were all due on or around the 15th of the month! (Oh, crap!)
The solution to that seemed simple enough: since we were signed up for on-line bill-pay, and since I had already been using it to pay our bills, all I had to do was find a computer with an internet connection…right? “Doesn’t your mother have an internet connection?” John asked.
“No, she does not,” I replied.
“What about the public library?”
Well, although I knew that there were several public libraries in Tucson, there was only one that I could locate off the top of my head: the Woods Memorial Branch, off of 1st Avenue and Prince Road. Unfortunately, I knew that they had weird hours, too, which meant that they might not be open until late in the day. Naturally, that was the case. We arrived at 9:40 a.m., only to learn that they did not open until 10:00 a.m.
In order to kill those twenty minutes, we decided to head to the grocery store down the street to pick up a few supplies that we were missing. We returned at 10:00 sharp, just seconds before the staff unlocked the doors…
…and that was when we noticed the sign on the door. It was a temporary sign that read, “No public access to computers.” You’ve got to be kidding me!
While we were in Tucson, we decided to pay a visit to my mother and Ed, just to say hi and to borrow a phone book to look for another library. Ed even offered to let us use his library card so that we could use the library’s computer…although he was a little bit puzzled as to why the Woods Branch did not have public access to computers, as that was where he went to look up stuff on the internet.
We located another library on West Speedway and went there after leaving my mother’s house. I went inside and asked the librarian on duty if I could use the computer. That was when I learned why there was no public access to the libraries’ computer that day: a virus had wiped out the network! They did not expect to be up until later on in the day.
By that time, we had already been delayed by an hour, so we decided that it was best to give up and wait until we got home on Monday to pay the bills. We would just have to eat the late fees, if any.
Once we were underway again, we continued east on I-10 and drove non-stop towards Willcox. (We would have stopped in Benson, but when Mary fell asleep, we thought it best not to wake her up!) In Willcox, we stopped at the Rip Griffin’s, where we ate lunch at Subway then topped off the gas tank.
By the time we were ready to leave Willcox, it had started to rain. It continued to rain as we made our way south on SR 186, towards the Chiricahua National Monument. The rain fell lightly at first, but just after we passed through the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, it began to pour relentlessly. The highway was drenched, and there was thunder and lightning everywhere – it was turning into one hell of a monsoon storm! Was this a sign of things to come that weekend? Would it rain the whole time we were there?
The rain had eased up a bit by the time we came to Pinery Canyon Road, the dirt road that would take us all the way to Rustler’s Park, high up in the Chiricahuas. Although the rain was letting up, the damage to the road was already done; for the first few miles, the road was full of muddy pot holes and slick mud that forced us to keep a slower-than-normal pace as we made our way up the mountain range.
The rain may have caused some road damage, but it had certainly been kind to the forest. On either side of the road, the forest was lush and green, and all of the creeks were flowing. From the looks of things, one would never believe that Arizona was in the middle of a nine-year drought!
On the way up to Rustler’s Park, we passed by many familiar places, including the turn-off for the Methodist Camp. That was a road that we would never forget! During our last trip to the Chiricahuas, we decided to take that road, from Barfoot Park to the Methodist Camp. Needless to say, we were going to skip that adventure this time.
It took us about an hour to reach Rustler’s Park, and it took us another half an hour to find a suitable campsite. We decided not to camp in the campground at Rustler’s Park, only because we didn’t want any neighbors, so we went instead to Barfoot Park, only two miles away. There was a campground there, too, with people camped there, so we kept looking until we found something we liked, a mile or so from the park. Although it was just off of the road, it was set down in a little valley, which gave us a little bit of protect from the elements, and we would not have any neighbors either!
We didn’t waste any time getting our campsite set up, as we were afraid that the skies were going to open up on us again at any minute. (That seemed to be our luck these days.) Once everything was unpacked, John announced that he was going to climb the hill to Barfoot Lookout, which was just above our campsite (we could see the Lookout Tower from our site) – that would be his pre-dinner workout. Meanwhile, Mary and I began collecting wood in hopes of building a campfire…if it didn’t rain, of course.
Upon his return to camp, John began to cook my birthday dinner, which consisted of steak, noodles, a vegetable, and a good Shiraz. After dinner, John tried to get the campfire going, with little success. I did get to toast two marshmallows for my birthday, but before we could get out the chocolate and the graham crackers, it started to rain again. Quickly, we scrambled to cover up our camping gear, and then the three of us retreated into our tent for the night.
We made the decision to keep Mary in the tent with us that night, and we would play it by ear for the next two nights. Although Mary had no problem sleeping in her own tent by herself, we were worried that the rain would keep us from getting to her if she did have a problem, such as a coughing fit or a nightmare. It would just be easier for her to sleep in the tent with us, so we set up her sleeping pad and sleeping bag next to me. She was excited to be able to sleep with us that night – so excited, in fact, that she wouldn’t go to sleep until we did.
It was raining very lightly when we decided to turn in for the night, but a couple of hours later, around 11:00 p.m., the monsoons returned in full force, with heavy rains and thunder and lightning, too. It kept me awake for a couple of hours. Mary, on the other hand, slept through the whole thing.
The next morning, John awoke around 5:00 to go take a morning walk through the woods. Not even five minutes after he left, it began to rain again. I drifted in and out of sleep while listening to the rain pelt the tent, wondering if John was going to give up on his walk and come back to bed. He never did, so at 6:00 a.m., I decided that it was time to get up and start the day.
As soon as I opened up the tent, Mary awoke, too, and John emerged from the Jeep, where he had sought refuge from the rain. Now that we were all awake, John returned to the tent with bowls of cereal in his hands, and we all ate breakfast while listening to the rain.
Despite all of the rain, we decided not to let it ruin our plans for the day, which were to visit and hike in the Chiricahua National Monument. Once the breakfast dishes were put away and we were all dressed for the day, around 8:30 that morning, we left our campsite and drove down the mountain to the national monument.
It was cold and overcast – but not raining – when we arrived at the gates of the Chiricahua National Monument. After showing our National Park pass the ranger at the gate, we proceeded to the Visitor Center, so that Mary could obtain another stamp for her passport book. While we were there, John inquired about a shuttle bus that I had told him about, that runs from the Visitor’s Center to the Echo Canyon Trailhead. I had seen a flier for it during our anniversary trip to the Chiricahuas more than four years ago, and we hoped that they still had it. The good new was that they still had the shuttle bus; unfortunately, it only ran once a day…and we had already missed it by ten minutes.
John also inquired about a Junior Ranger program for Mary to try. Since she had already participated in two programs – one at Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico, and the other at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon – she was certainly ready for a third…or so we thought. Sadly, Mary was just not in the mood to do another Junior Ranger program, so we gave up on it halfway through the day.
Although we had missed the shuttle bus, John still wanted to get some hiking in for the day, so he came up with a great idea. He suggested that I hike from the Echo Canyon Trailhead down to the visitor center – a total of 4.2 miles. Meanwhile, he and Mary would start hiking from the Visitor’s Center and meet me along the Lower Rhyolite Trail. He had, of course, already done that hike during our first visit to the Chiricahuas, in 2000 (when I was about nine months pregnant with Mary), so he figured that it was my turn. After giving it some thought, I said, “Sure, why not?”
It was drizzling again when we left the Visitor’s Center to go to the Echo Canyon Trailhead, and it was still drizzling when we arrived at Massai Point to take pictures. While we were there, we hiked the Massai Point Trail, which is only a quarter of a mile long. That took us about ten minutes to complete at Mary’s pace. It was a good warm up for my hike.
Once we were finished at Massai Point, John drove me over to the Echo Canyon Trailhead, where I geared up for my hike. I put on my new hiking boots, grabbed a few snacks and my Camelbak for the hike, put the map of the park into my pocket, and then kissed John and Mary good-bye. At 10:00 precise, as I watched the Jeep drive away, I started my hike into Rhyolite Canyon.
The first 1.6 miles of the hike was on the Echo Canyon Trail, which winds through the ever-impressive Wall Street. Wall Street is one of those places that is a must-see when visiting the Chiricahua National Monument, as it is famous for its stunning rock formations, hoodoos, and giant monoliths, which form small nooks and niches into which one can climb. At some points along Wall Street, the path takes hikers in between the giant rocks, through slots that are barely as wide as the span of one’s arms. The views here are fantastic, too; from the trail, one can look out between the giant monoliths and see a vast forest of hoodoos, stretching as far as the eye can see.
After winding through Wall Street, the Echo Canyon Trail began to switchback down into the canyon, towards the tree-lined creek. Here, at Echo Park, the trail was very cool and shaded by oak and sycamore trees. It was also quite peaceful, as I was now alone, having passed up all of the other hikers at Wall Street. How nice it was to have such a quiet hike!
At the edge of Echo Park, I came to the first of two creek crossings and managed to make it across without getting my new boots wet. Once I was on the other side, the trail began to climb out of the park and away from the coolness of the trees inside the canyon. A tenth of a mile later, I came to the first trail junction, where the Echo Canyon Trail meets up with the Hailstone Trail (which goes to the Ed Riggs Trail and completes the Echo Canyon Loop) and the Upper Rhyolite Trail. Since I certainly didn’t want to go back to the Trailhead, I took the Upper Rhyolite Trail.
From the trail junction, the Upper Rhyolite Trail began to descend gently back into the cool canyon, towards the creek. Like Echo Park, this part of the trail was very pretty. Everything was cool and damp from the recent rains, and all of the foliage was lush and green, as though there wasn’t a drought in Arizona.
Now, I had to be careful on this part of the trail, as John had gotten lost there four years ago. He pointed out to me on the map that I would come to an area where the trail could go either left or right. Going left would keep me on the trail – the trail would cross the creek then begin to climb again. Going right would get me lost. I assured him that I would pay attention and not make the same mistake that he made.
Fortunately, when I did come to that area, there wasn’t even a question about going left or right. The trail on the right had since been blocked off by the park service, so the only way to go was left, which I did.
On the other side of the creek, the trail began to climb out of the canyon once again as it followed the contour. The trail was very exposed there, so I grateful to have the overcast skies to keep the temperatures down.
The Upper Rhyolite Trail ended at 1.1 miles, at the trail junction with the Lower Rhyolite Trail. From there, it was only 1.5 miles to the Visitor’s Center. Once I passed the junction, I looked at my watch and said to myself, “I will probably meet up with John in Mary in a half a mile, which, at my pace, will be in about fifteen minutes.”
And I guessed that exactly right. A half of a mile later, I saw John and Mary hiking towards me. Mary was so excited that she came running towards me, a half-eaten apple in one hand and her Wiggles backpack in the other. She quickly handed off her backpack to John and grabbed a hold of me, as though she had not seen me in days.
We continued hiking from that point to the visitor’s center, a mile away. For the most part, Mary held my hand, as though she did not want me to leave her again. Then, for the last quarter of a mile or so, she decided that she wanted to be the line-leader, so that she would reach the trailhead first and be the winner. Naturally, she was the winner, as she touched the Jeep first upon finishing the trail. We gave her lots of praise, not only for being the winner, but because she had just completed a whole two miles without being carried (and that was not including the quarter-mile that she did on the Massai Point Trail!).
There was a picnic table at the trailhead, so John and Mary and I decided to have lunch there. We made sandwiches and ate them while watching the birds flit around from tree to tree. Just as we finished, of course, it started to drizzle again, so it was time for us to go.
As we left the National Monument, we noticed that there were three deer grazing along the side of the road. John pulled over to see if he could get a picture of them, and he was in luck! None of the deer ran away! One of them even appeared to pose for John as he took his picture, and they were still there when we finally drove away.
Rather than return to camp, we drove into Willcox instead, to replenish our ice supply. John also needed to buy some pain medication, because his back had been hurting him during the whole trip. While we were in Willcox, we took a moment to check our cell phones for messages, and that was when I learned the good news: my friend Debbie had had her baby that morning! Timothy Curtis Brown was born at 5:34 that morning, on August 14 (missing my birthday by only a few hours!), weighing in at nine pounds. What wonderful news!
We stopped at the Safeway in Willcox and got the supplies that we needed and more: we picked up a six-pack of Shiner Bock to enjoy at our campsite. That would be a good way to pass the time in case it rained again.
It was nearly three o’clock when we returned to camp that afternoon, and finally, the sun was shining! Instead of sitting around camp and drinking beer, John announced that he was going for a short hike, since he had missed his usual morning hike. While he was gone, Mary and I sat in the tent and played one of her new card games (Winnie the Pooh Uno). Then, around 5:00 p.m., just before John returned, I started cooking dinner.
That evening, we ate Sloppy Joes (made with turkey meat) for dinner, and then we sat around by the campfire (which we struggled to keep going) and drank our beer. We also made S’mores – a tasty treat that Mary absolutely loved…although she was now forbidden from toasting the marshmallows herself after getting one stuck in her hair! (YOU try getting sticky marshmallows out of a kid’s hair without running water!)
We did manage to get a good campfire going that night, and it was a good thing, too, because just before Mary’s bedtime, I discovered that all of our jackets were soaking wet! They had gotten wet when John left the drain to the cooler open that afternoon, but I never even noticed that they were wet when I threw them into the tent, on top of Mary’s sleeping bag. (Oh, yes, that got wet, too!) We spent the next hour or so with all of our jackets and Mary's sleeping bag hanging by the fire in a desperate attempt to dry them before Mary’s bedtime.
We were fortunate to get everything dry, with the exception of the cuffs on my jacket, before it was time to go to bed. Once Mary’s bag was dry, we put her to bed in our tent again, knowing full well that it was going to rain again that night. We followed a half an hour later.
The storm started earlier that night, picking up around 10:00 p.m. and raining for several hours. Once the thunder and lightning stopped, I was able to fall asleep and stay asleep for most of the storm. Mary, too, slept through most of the night; she awakened once to get my attention, but once I tucked her back into her sleeping bag, she was fast asleep again.
The next morning, John awoke early again, in an attempt to go on another hike. This time, he succeeded, and he returned just as Mary and I awoke, around 6:30 a.m. He came into the tent with bowls of cereal in his hands, and the three of us ate breakfast in our sleeping bags once more.
Since it was not raining that morning, and the skies appeared to be clear and sunny, at least for the time being, John suggested that we do a hike on the Portal-side of the mountain. He thought that the South Fork Trail would be a good choice, because it was flat for the first few miles – that would be a good hike for Mary to do. That would put us close to the town of Portal, where we could go to replenish our ice supply for the day. I thought it was a nice idea, so once we were dressed and ready to go, we left our campsite and started down the mountain towards Portal.
Portal and Paradise are two of the small towns located on the other side of the Chiricahua Mountains from the National Monument. We had become familiar with these two communities during our last visit to the Chiricahuas, when we stayed at the George Walker House in Paradise. Although very small and only accessible via dirt road, Portal is home to a fire station, a general store/restaurant, a guest lodge, and a even a condominium complex. There is also a National Forest ranger station there, where we have always stopped to talk to the ranger and get information about hikes in the area.
En route to Portal, we stopped along the side of the road, at a sign that read “Vista Point”…but there wasn’t anything to see! Curious, we got out of the Jeep and found that the Vista Point was about 500 yards away, at the end of a trail that traipsed through the dense forest. We really wanted to see what it was, so we started hiking. It took us about five or ten minutes to get to the end, where the trail broke out of the trees and onto a shelf of sorts that contained a park bench, a telescope, and a sign that read “Cathedral Vista”.
The view was simply incredible. From the shelf, we had a 360 degree view of the mountains that surrounded us: giant monoliths painted red and green and yellow in the early morning sun, with their peaks hidden by small wisps of clouds on an otherwise clear morning. It was very stunning and well worth the short hike to get there.
We didn’t spend too much time admiring Cathedral Rock, for we still had things to do that morning. Once we returned to the Jeep, we continued down Portal Road for another mile until we came to the Ranger Station, our next stop. Although it was Sunday, the ranger station was open, so we went inside to talk to the ranger on duty.
There was a lot of noise inside of the ranger station that morning. Not only was there already another group of hikers there, talking to the ranger, but all of the rattlesnakes on display were shaking their tails at anyone who dared to approach their glass. The forest service had four or five rattlesnakes, as well as a Gila monster and some water scorpions, in glass aquariums on display. Usually, the snakes are very quiet and don’t care if visitors come to look at them, but that morning, they were all wound up and pissed off!
Once the other hikers left, things quieted down in the ranger station – even the snakes stopped rattling. (They started up again whenever Mary ran by their cages, but they calmed down once she ran in the other direction.) John used that quiet time to talk to the ranger about her recommendations for kid-friendly hikes in the area.
It was no surprise that she would recommend the South Fork of Cave Creek Trail, which was the trail that we were planning to do that day. (She also recommended a Nature Trail, but we passed on that one.) So, we thanked her for her time, and with that, we left the ranger station to continue on our way.
Before we went hiking, we went into Portal to purchase more ice for our coolers and to buy some snacks for later. One of our snacks was a bag of M&M’s for Mary, which would be her motivation to hike that day. She could not have them until she was done hiking and back at the Jeep – we hoped that it would work!
It didn’t take us long to get from Portal to the trailhead, which was located only about a mile from the ranger station. As we approached the parking area, we stopped and paid our $5 day-use fee at the self-pay station then parked the Jeep under a large tree next to the trailhead.
It was turning into a lovely, sunny day – a perfect day for hiking, of course. The nighttime rains had left everything damp and cool, but the sunshine gave us just enough warmth that we didn’t need our jackets for the hike. (We did have emergency rain ponchos, just in case…you never know when the monsoons are going to strike!)
After donning our gear and exchanging our traditional trail kisses, we started down the South Fork Trail. Our destination would be Maple Camp, located at 1.5 miles from the trailhead. That would make it a three-mile hike – an appropriate distance for a four-year-old to hike, so we hoped. That would put us back at the Jeep just in time for lunch.
About a tenth of a mile from the trailhead, we entered the Chiricahua Wilderness Area – a new wilderness area for Mary, for a total of 23 wilderness areas visited in her life! (That’s quite an accomplishment for a four-year-old.) We stopped briefly and gave her new wilderness kisses before ushering her on her way again.
Naturally, Mary wanted to be the line-leader again, so we allowed her to walk at the head of the line, where she set the pace for us. Although Mary was not the fastest hiker, she did manage to set a pretty good pace for us, one that was quicker than her normal pace. She was also much more curious than usual and wanted to point out everything that she saw. Every time she saw a yucca, for example, she said, “That’s a poker!”
“No, that’s a yucca,” John corrected. They went back and forth like that several times.
The South Fork of Cave Creek Trail followed…well, it followed the south fork of Cave Creek, through a lush riparian area full of oaks and sycamores and greenery of every kind. There were also several creek crossings along the way, some of them more difficult than others. We took our time at each one, in order to make sure that we all got across safely. Mary crossed some of them by herself, while holding onto Daddy’s hands. At others, she had to be carried across, as it was just easier that way. The easiest creek crossing, though, involved walking on a log that spanned the creek. Mary held John’s hands and carefully made her way across the log. She did a great job!
Although our plan was to hike to Maple Camp, we cut our trip short at the last creek crossing, as Mary was getting a little bit cranky. She needed to take a break, so rather than go the last quarter of a mile, we stopped and took a break next to the creek. Mary sat down on a large rock and proceeded to throw little stones into the water à la Pooh-Sticks, and I sat next to her to watch her.
We rested there for about ten minutes before starting back to the trailhead. By that time, our lovely, sunny day was beginning to see its first signs of monsoonal weather, as gray clouds were gathering over the peaks of the mountains. That meant that we needed to hurry, so as to beat the storm.
Although Mary walked most of the way back, John decided to carry her for about a half of a mile. This was to ensure that we would make it back before the storm hit. Mary did walk the last little bit back to the trailhead, though, and as the line-leader, she made it back to the Jeep first, making her the winner two days in a row!
As we put our gear into the Jeep, we could hear the thunder rumbling all around us. Knowing that we didn’t have much time, we quickly prepared our lunch at a nearby picnic table and finished just as the first few drops of rain began to fall. I put Mary into the Jeep while John put the ice chest away. Then, just as the rain began to pour down on us, John and I piled into the Jeep, sandwiches in hand.
We are our lunch on our way back to Portal, where John decided to buy one more thing: a bottle of wine for dinner. (“We earned it!” he said.) He also bought us ice cream cones, which we ate on our way back to camp.
The rain subsided halfway back to camp, as we made our way up Portal Road to Barfoot Park. So John announced that he was going to go on another hike. He requested that I drop him off at the Crest Trailhead, next to the campground at Rustler’s Park, and he would hike back to camp by himself. So, I did; I let him out of the Jeep at Rustler’s Park, and after watching him disappear onto the Crest Trail, I made my way back to camp.
While we waited for John to return, Mary and I played more Winnie the Pooh Uno in the tent. Then, I decided that I needed to take a nap. I laid down under my sleeping bag and closed my eyes.
John returned to camp minutes later, just in time for my nap. He took Mary out of the tent and played with her so that I could rest. I soon fell asleep and snoozed for about ninety minutes or so.
I was awakened by Mary, who was saying, “Mommy, come and eat your dinner!” At first, I was a bit disoriented, wondering why she was bothering me, but once I looked at my watch, I realized that I had slept all the way until dinnertime.
It had been drizzling again while John was cooking dinner, so he set up a tarp between the Jeep and the trees to provide him with a dry area in which to cook. He also set up our table and chairs underneath the tarp, so that we could eat dinner out of the rain.
We stayed under that tarp for most of the evening, even after dinner was over, because it drizzled for most of the night. We had hoped to have a campfire that night, as we wanted to make some Jiffy Pop popcorn for Mary, but we had no such luck. Instead, we had to make our Jiffy Pop on the camp stove. It was still cool to watch as the foil expanded with the popcorn popped, but it just wasn’t the same as doing it over an open fire.
Once again, we called it an early night, and once again, Mary slept in our tent, as we knew that it was going to rain. This time, however, the storm did not hit until the middle of the night, and it blew through quickly, which gave us a chance to sleep a little better.
The next morning, John awoke early as usual and went on his morning hike. This time, he found himself high atop another peak – not Barfoot Peak or Ida Peak, but nearby – with one of the most magnificent views he had ever seen. Unfortunately, he did not bring the camera with him, so he did not get the change to share the joy with us.
Upon his return to camp, he began to cook pancakes for breakfast. Mary and I heard him and emerged from the tent to start our morning.
It did not rain that morning, and the clouds were beginning to break up to give us some much-needed sunshine. We were grateful for it, too, because we needed the sunshine to help dry out the tents before we could pack them up.
Yes, it was time to go home. It was Monday morning, meaning that our long weekend was almost over. After the breakfast dishes were cleaned and put away, the three of us got busy and began to tear down our campsite. That took a lot of work, because both of the tents were soaked, as were the mats that we had placed outside of them and the tarp, too. We were efficient, though, and managed to get everything packed into the pod by 8:00 a.m.
Before we could go home, there was one more thing that we had to do, while we were in that region of the state. It was one of our goals to see all of the different National Parks and Monuments in Arizona, and we were finally down to the last three or four. One of those sites was nearby, located along a dirt road twelve miles off of SR 186. It was the Fort Bowie National Historic Site, which had once been a trading post and military garrison during Arizona’s territorial days.
Fort Bowie was a different kind of National Park site, as it was only accessible by foot. Located at an elevation of about 4,900 feet, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to visit the fort, as we thought it might be too hot to hike there. However, the monsoonal clouds were keeping the temperatures cool enough for us to make the attempt, so, we decided to make it happen.
We found our way to the Fort Bowie parking lot without any problems. The road getting there was properly marked, as was the parking area, which consisted of a covered picnic table, various signs about the park, and a set of restrooms.
According to the signs, the trail was 1.5 miles one way – three miles roundtrip – and could be completed as a loop. Most of the points of interest could be found along the first part of the loop, leading to the Fort. We would see, for example, the Butterfield Overland Stage Route, with which we were already familiar, as well as the remains of a stagecoach depot, a cemetery, and some Indian artifacts, too.
We began our hike to the fort around 10:00 a.m., under overcast skies that were threatening to open up on us at any minute. (The clouds were so low, in fact, that they covered the hilltops that surrounded the fort.) It drizzled slightly on us at the trailhead, but the rain stopped once we were underway.
The trail started off with a short descent into the valley then followed along a wide footpath, marked with educational signs and mileage markers at every quarter-mile. The first thing we found, at the first quarter-mile marker, was an old miner’s cabin, now in ruins, with a sign in front of it explaining its significance. Just past the half-mile marker, we found the ruins of an old stagecoach depot, which had been used as a stopover point along the Butterfield Overland Stage Route. Beyond that, we crossed the historic Butterfield Stage Route; there, we found a map of the entire route that had been used during the mid to late 1800’s, to deliver mail from St. Louis to San Francisco. (We have driven a small, ten-mile section of that route that can be found in the Sonoran Desert National Monument, near Gila Bend.)
Near the three-quarter mile marker – half-way there! – we found an old cemetery, where soldiers had once been buried. According to the signs, the soldiers had since been unearthed and reburied elsewhere; a few civilian graves still remained there.
From there, the trail turned towards the hills, and we could finally see the American Flag that flew over it. As we neared the fort, there were many more points of interest to see. Around the one-mile marker, for example, we found the ruins of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency; and just before we came to Apache Pass, we found an Apache village.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the hike was Apache Pass, located near the 1.25-mile marker. Apache Pass was located in a rich, riparian area, in which there was a spring that provided water for the fort. The area was very beautiful, and we enjoyed hiking in it.
As we marched through the riparian area at Apache Pass, Mary started calling out, “A rabbit! A rabbit!” Sure enough, there was a brown rabbit hopping across our path and into the brush next to the trail. That was the first time that Mary had ever found wildlife before us – usually, we’re the ones pointing it out to her!
We completed our climb up to Apache Pass and finally entered the ruins of Fort Bowie, where we found acres upon acres of ruins. There were a few buildings that were still intact, but for the most part, all that remained were the last few crumbled walls of the fort. Each of the ruins had a sign next to it with an explanation of what it used to be and trails leading out to them.
Instead of exploring the ruins, we went to the visitor’s center first, where we stamped Mary’s passport book. We also spent about fifteen minutes or so reading about the fort at the various displays within the museum. Mary was especially interested in the mannequins that were dressed up in the clothing of the period, so we took a few minutes to explain to her that that was how people dressed in those days.
After we were finished in the Visitor’s Center, we went back outside to explore the ruins and to take pictures of the crumbled remains. It was very serene; except for the park rangers, who were inside of the visitor’s center, we were the only ones there, and it was quiet and peaceful there. It really gave me a chance to ponder about what the place looked like in the 1850’s, and what life was like back then.
We didn’t linger too long at the ruins, as the gray clouds overhead were still threatening rain, and it was almost lunchtime. At 11:40, John announced that it was time to go, so the three of us began the long hike back to the trailhead.
We decided to return the way we had come, rather than complete the loop, because Mary was getting cranky, and we were already familiar with the trail. (The park ranger also told us that there wasn’t much to see along the rest of the loop, so he recommended that we return the way we had come.) Although she was getting tired, we did manage to get her to walk most of the way back to the Jeep – she hiked a total of two and a quarter miles that day, just as she had done the other two days of our trip. I was impressed: that meant that Mary had hiked almost seven miles during the whole weekend. Not bad for a four year old!
It only took us about forty-five minutes to return to the Jeep, and by the time we got there, we were all very hungry. John thought about making sandwiches for us at the picnic table, but since he was in a hurry to leave, he gave us all some snacks from the food box, to hold us until we reached Willcox. (We would get Subway there.)
It took us about fifteen minutes or so to get to Willcox from Fort Bowie – all we had to do was continue along the same road and it eventually came out onto a paved road that went north to I-10. In Willcox, we topped off the gas tank once more and bought Subway for lunch. After that, we drove non-stop all the way home.
Despite the rain, it had been a fun adventure camping in the Chiricahuas, one that we will never forget. But it was good to be home, too. Another exciting adventure was over…
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