The dawn broke to yet another chilly morning in the Chiricahua Mountains. Practically everyone woke up frozen and stiff from the cold temperatures and hard ground which was slightly padded with little pebbles. I myself had slept in two pairs of socks and pants, three shirts, and my winter hat, scarf and gloves which I had brought for the occasion. As if the temperatures and sleeping accommodations were bad enough, we had a chorus of people who snore at night. It's no wonder that no one was really perky in the morning, except of course Christa.
The funniest story that has to be told is the adventures of Harrison's sleeping out on one of the picnic tables. He related his encounter to us with the gray-breasted jays over breakfast. He had had his head covered with his sleeping bag. The jays, being the early risers that they are, were scouting the campsite for leftovers from the previous night's dinner. One bird, being unable to identify what Harrison was, dive bombs at his head, waking him up. To say the least, he slept in one of the vans the next night.
Our breakfast consisted of fruit, peanut butter on English muffins, and coffee grounds mixed with some water (supposedly coffee) in their cups. Annette, nicknamed Pinkette because of the pink eye she came down with on the first day of the trip, decided that she didn't want to wait for the water to boil, so she grabbed a spoon and sat there at the picnic table eating raw coffee grounds. Dr. Merck was not able to take a picture because "the light wasn't right." After we finished our breakfast, we set off for the mountains.
Our plan had been to hike the small trail up to the viewpoint on Massai Point. Massai Point is also known to the Chircahua Apache as Yahdeshut, which means "Point of Rocks." The viewpoint is a small lookout building where you can see in all directions, but someone was so kind as to leave some information to read about how the mountain range was formed. Although Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz are very informative individuals, they spew out information so quickly like volcanic eruptions that I appreciated being able to look at the written captions in the lookout so that I could digest the information in simpler to understand terms. For example, Dr. Holtz was trying to explain the formation of the ranges as being created by "icky eruptions" of ash, rhyolite, pyroclast, and a final eruption of lava. One can get the gist of how the beautiful mountains were formed, but this one sentence came out so quickly that it made my head spin. According the lookout information, the mountain range was indeed made from volcanic eruptions of ash and glass which spewed into the air in a "gaseous emulsion," which was enough to blot out the sun. As the ash settled, its own heat and pressure welded it together in what geologists called welded tuff (man tuff!). Also according to the anonymous writer, innard pressure formed faults and cracks. The faults either thrust blocks of crust upwards to form the mountain ranges, and other blocks of crust sank to form the basins. The cracks allowed water to seep into the earth and erode particles away to help form the spires which we saw today.
In the lookout with us on this blustery day was a group of elderly individuals who were going to do the same short hike that we planned to do first. Rather than keeping behind them, we decided to do the long hike first. This hike consists of small paths through beautiful mountain landscape filled with spires and balancing rocks. Along with the sessile spectacles, we were hoping to spot some of the wildlife such as birds or Coatis.
Along our hike we identified two major rock formations. One was the balancing rocks that could be seen. These are massive boulders which seem to balance on top of a pedestal that looks unable to either balance or support its weight. These balancing rocks are comprised of hard and soft layers succeeding each other in a vertical pattern. In the event of rain (I can't imagine there's much of it in the desert) the water dissolves or erodes away the softer layers more quickly than the harder ones, forming this particular shape. The other sort of rock formation was what Dr. Holtz liked to refer to as fossilized hail stones. This sort of looks like a rock has hard stone boils on it. These bumps have been thought to be fossilized hail stones that fell while the volcanoes were erupting. Recently, according to Dr. Holtz, another scientist believes that the spherical bumps were rather due to chemical reactions around a nucleus and appropriately, the shape it would take on is a sphere. I will agree with Dr. Holtz in preferring to believe that they are fossilized hailstones.
In our group of travelers, there are quite a few tall, athletic people who seemed more interested in hiking the three miles than studying what sort of geology had occurred around them. At one point in the hike, about half way through, we approached a rather forested area where the group in 2002 had spotted a number of Coati. We were told to be quiet in hopes that we would spot them this year, but the wind was so strong, the Coati had been bound to smell our scent of not having showered for a couple of days. We stopped for brunch in a shaded spot, and I swear, the group of elders that we didn't want to be stuck behind hiked right on past us while we were eating. This large group of people in at least their 50's and 60's hiked past our eating spot, all carrying walking sticks and waving to us as they went by. I could almost swear these were the same people, and they were passing us on the trail! They must have taken another trail because we did not encounter them on our return to the vans.
Because some people were more interested in the hiking part of the trip rather than the educational part, the others trucked on ahead at a brisk pace. I, on the other hand, was not in a rush to finish the hike, and I hung back with Dr. Merck and Mrs. Shaw. The others ahead must have been too noisy because Dr. Merck was unable to spot any Coati, but we knew they were close by because of the musky scent on the wind and the numerous droppings on the ground. I asked him about Coati and he told me that they were related to raccoons, and they look like them except that they might have more reddish fur and longer noses. Since they are olfactory animals, they could most definitely smell us coming and had ample opportunity to hide. Although Coati can climb trees, they are usually found in the underbrush amongst the pine needles which resemble their fur color. By the end of the hike, no Coati had been spotted, but we did get to see some lizards, birds, and a lot of spires. When we returned to the campsite, there were a number of people who just wanted to take a nap, despite the hard ground. Others, who were more energetic, thought that it would be nice to walk to the visitor's center or walk on the Natural Bridge Trail. I was one of those who preferred to rest their feet and eyes, rather than walk through more woods.
You never know what you're capable of doing until you don't have the resources needed to cook. Only then do you test the limits. What were our tools? A couple of pot holders, sticks, and aluminum foil. With those tools, Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz were able to direct us into making a hearty meal of baked sweet potatoes, chicken with spice, and baked apples with cinnamon and sugar for dessert. I think that people enjoyed the meal immensely considering all the hiking that we had done that day. Hopefully people were able to sleep more soundly that night.
Day 8 (part I) Tombstone Fleecing Station and San Pedro River
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