Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chiricahua National Monument

It feels good coming back to the garden and Southern Arizona after a month or so in the tropics. My summer flew by fast! While I loved my trip to Panama and completing my Peru journals, I realized that I need to be here for awhile.  In fact, during my trip to Panama, the fires were raging about in Willcox, Bisbee, and Sierra Vista.  Everyday, I'd go online to see how much or little containment had happened.  I don't mind wildfire season at all, but when it gets out of control(and caused by people!!!), that's when I get a little angry.  As it would happen, I would visit the Chiricahua National Monument the day before the Horseshoe 2 fire began.  Here is some info about this incredible park and our experiences there.  I took these photos before my Panama trip in June.
First off.  Getting to the Chiricahua National Monument from Tucson is a bit of a drive so leave early.  I'd like to say it took us 3 hours, but we were stopping along the way for pictures here and there.  The trip itself has patches of interesting and boring all mixed together.  There were stretches of road that went on for quite a ways without anything around it except tumbleweed!  Let me reassure you that the trip is worth it!
The rock formations at this park are incredible as is the wildlife.  Again this place is a hotspot for birders and other outdoor enthusiasts.  You can camp here, hike here, and even drive up and down the scenic roads if you're into those "Sunday Drives".  For me, it was a great break from the Tucson heat.  It's MUCH cooler here...especially at the higher altitudes.  It can also get extremely windy.

It had also been very dry so when the human caused Horseshoe 2 fire began, I knew it was time for this mountain region to take the "next great hit".  As we were driving up the roads through the park, we noticed A LOT of old growth.  Trees grew tall next to each other like they did on Mt. Lemmon before her fire.  One of the things my better half and I spoke about in the car was about how this area had been spared the devastating fires of recent years.
Well as Murphy's Law would have it, everything would change the next day.  Our canyons and forested areas are losing ground here in the state of Arizona.  It's not just drought.  I think it also has to do with the forest management regulations from earlier on.  If we rewind a bit back to say...the 1950's, the forest management policies were to preserve and protect forested areas.  Today, if that same area is burning and doesn't affect human settlements or endanger protected wildlife, the policy is to just let it burn. Well that's all good, BUT when the policy changed, unhealthy or dead trees should have been removed. As you can imagine, with all that dry timber over the years building up, a fire will catch quick.  In the above pic, you can see several dead trees standing.  While they were cool looking, it would also be fuel for the Horseshoe 2 fire. Today, I think the firefighters do an outstanding job as does the forest service.  We've learned a lot over the years as a people.  The drought has caused fires to burn hotter and longer which is why it is a bit more devastating for our state.
The rocks formations are amazing here.  We felt like we were in another place entering this national monument.
If you love hiking, you'll really enjoy this park.  There were trails everywhere.  In fact, this shot was taken from one!
Tomorrow, I'll return to Mt. Lemmon for some artsy shoots.  They are reflections that while fires are devastating, they also have a purpose.  So while the Chiricahua area suffered "damage", it will come back in the next several decades.  I think it hits people the hardest because decades mean nothing for Mother Nature.  I remember an old man during the Aspen fire on Mt. Lemmon.  He told me that he was very sad.  Growing up in their 100 year old family cabin, he recalled all the happy memories up on the mountain.  If you hadn't seen Mt. Lemmon before the fire, it was incredibly magnificent.....it still is, but it isn't the same.  The older gentlemen lost that family cabin, sold the land, and made a statement that I won't forget......"I will never again see the Mt. Lemmon of my youth.  By the time the forest restores itself, I will be dead and gone."  And that's when it hit me.
The 90's were fun.  I'd take my special needs kids up to Mt. Lemmon or Chiricahua for a picnic and hike on my summer program.  Large areas of trees smothered the trails with their super tall and giantesque build.  Most of them are all but gone as is the quircky little lodge I used to sit and drink my coffee at while writing letters to my family back home.  In a moment of hunger, I would go to the pie place across the road.  The owner has since died and the place no longer is open.  And what hit me?  Change.  Everything changes and we have to learn to adapt because life likes to throw us curve balls.
If there is one image I could share with you all about the devastation of a fire, it would be this.  After the Aspen fire, my friends who own their cabin on Mt. Lemmon, allowed me to come up with them to see the damage.  There were charred remains everywhere and only stone chimneys stood to remind me that cabins once existed. Smoke hung heavy in the air.  But I will never forget this image.  While my friends were spared their cabin, the surrounding neighbors hadn't been so lucky. While we were walking around the ruins, a deer emerged from an island of woods.  She had ash on her and looked beaten up, but the deer walked and searched for food.  On Mt. Lemmon, I have two secret spots that I go to reflect.  One is still there while the other place has been erased from history.  There had been a cool little red cabin trapped in time among an old area of growth.  I went to that cabin and discovered that it, along with the surrounding vegetation, had all been burned.  But the deer was there and to me, it was a sign that things would be okay.  It's hard to grasp the devastation a fire can cause and for many people who lived on Mt. Lemmon. They will never forget the day the mushroom cloud formed on top of Summerhaven as gas tanks exploded everywhere from the intense heat. I was driving home from work in the afternoon when it all happened.  It was like someone dropped a nuclear bomb on top of the mountain.  Today, several years later, the place is showing signs of life and regrowth.  I hope the next set of posts will encourage those who have been affected by our terrible wildfire season. Whether it's Madera, Sabino, or Carr canyon, Mt. Lemmon, or the Chiricahua National Monument, life still moves forward. There are always ways to help or volunteer your time.  For more info on the Chiricahua National Monument, click on this link here....  http://www.nps.gov/chir/index.htm


  1. Wow - never have been there, worth a trip to the Chiricahua National Monument, even the burnt parts.

    Changes are part of things; too bad heavy-handed gov't policies *du jour* are not always considerate of all factors. I see that as an LA and poorly-crafted gov't laws. But doggone it, they met time deadlines...

    Hopefully, such places are better managed with the right actions and people, not just throwing more money at something that doesn't work.

    Again, what a beautiful place! Thanks for whetting my interest to make the 4-5 hour drive.

  2. again...thank you for sharing
    what a great place

  3. Very interesting article and one close to my heart as I have spent many weekends hiking around the Chiricahua mountains. You brought up a good point regarding fire policy changes. When BLM decided it was best to let fires burn they forgot that in much earlier times Native Americans and pioneers lived off the land clearing, and using dead down wood and plants, etc. Now people are fined for removing anything from the forests even dead down wood. So when a fire goes through an area it isn't just a minor fire that helps renew the land in a short period--the fires today are brutal and intense consuming everything in it's path. I lived in New Mexico for 23 years and the forests maintained by Native Americans were always healthier, less prone to major fire destruction, and less susceptible to disease. When I would speak with them about it they said they would say it was because they managed the forests in the old ways and cleared away or logged out dead and diseased trees.

  4. What a great place!!!! Another place I'd like to visit!


Thanks for stopping by!