Monday, April 27, 2020

Middlemarch Road Over the Pass - Or Not?

To avoid confusion, and any possible shaming or official visits by the Corona police, I'm adding this clarifying face-wash note because there is actually a little talk of, and even actual, socializing in the next few posts.

For years my normal mode of living has been social distancing, I just didn't know that's what it was called. (Until the past couple months "weird" was a commonly used descriptor, which is maybe slightly kinder than 'his cornbread isn't cooked in the middle', which has also been overheard.) So while many of my current posts, up until the next couple after this that is, may look like I'm carefully following today's social distancing rules, that wasn't the case. In reality, for security reasons I don't post real-time and the hikes and events described actually took place back in November. You know, back before the stores ran out of toilet paper for no damn reason other than our own stupidity. . .

And even if there was a good reason behind the run on ass-wipes, every responsible household in the country should have already had enough supplies of all kinds on hand to survive a little while without our beloved (desperate?) trips to the store because the potential for a disruption to our very fragile infrastructure and/or supply-chain is always there. Grid failures, sudden bush-wars, (Especially when you have an Emperor rather than a President - - OK, OK, I'll admit that several times a day he really is the smartest man in the room, after all, I assume he goes to the bathroom by himself. . .) hurricanes in the south and east, ice storms and blizzards in the north and northeast, tornadoes in the mid-west and south, flooding - well - flooding almost everywhere, earthquakes, wild-fires, volcanoes  - you get the idea.

Anyway, I didn't plan on this turning into an alienating rant so now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

April 24 2020


November 17 2019

It's time to leave the Cochise Stronghold Campground and head on over to Sierra Vista this morning to re-supply and see about hooking up with a fellow blogger.

To get from here to there I have a few choices.

Take the obvious, and safest, and highwayiest and boringest route, about 80 miles end to end, around the northern end of the Dragoons then down the west side of the San Pedro Valley,

take the less boring but still safe, about 70 mile, route around the south end of the mountains and across Gleeson Road, (This is the route The Cowboy and the Southern Bell of Restoration Cowboy Style, bloggers with a winter home in the area, seem to use during building-supply runs so it must be safe, or at least safe-ish)

or I could grow a pair and take the 55 mile route across Middlemarch Pass on a three number Forest Service road. (Forest Service roads come in 2, 3, and 4 number roads. Generally the higher the quantity of numbers the less road-like the road is.)

One of the benefits of growing older is that I no longer feel the need to prove that I have a big dick, (At least not all the time.) an urge that is almost undeniable for young and middle-aged men, and, admittedly, a surprising number of older men too.

Why else do you think we're prone to shooting guns at every opportunity, putting unnecessary lift-kits and ridiculously large tires on our rides, lighting the biggest fireworks available, running the loudest exhaust we can get, and prefacing so many stupid stunts with "here, hold my beer"?

But at the same time I've been age-mellowing out I have also become aware that my opportunities for do-overs are diminishing.

So what it boils down to is, if I don't attempt the pass now will I actually have another chance later? And if not is the future regret of not going for it when I had the opportunity going to outweigh the short-term warm-fuzzy sense of security I get from taking the safe way around?

Well after days of waffling one way then the other to the point of exhaustion over this philosophical, as well as practical, question, I still wasn't sure what I was going to do as I pulled out of my campsite.

In fact it wasn't until I actually turned east towards Middlemarch Canyon Rd instead of continuing south on the wide pavement of US-191 to Gleason Road, that I knew for sure I was at least going to take a look at that route over the pass.

After all, I could always turn around if it proved to be too much for the size of my old-man balls. (Only that's not always true is it? Opportunities for turning around on these roads diminish in direct proportion to the decreasing quality of the road and it's easy to find that you have passed the point where you are irrevocably committed, whether you want to be or not!)

Pearce Road, which leads from the highway, through the remains of the ghost-town of Pearce and on to the eastern end of Middlemarch Road, is great, but the mountains are still a ways away here.

Middlemarch Road is narrower, but still pretty much an any-vehicle-you-want road here in the valley outside the National Forest boundary.

OK, now we're back inside the National Forest and the road has abruptly narrowed to a single lane, though down here in lower end of the canyon there's still plenty of flat-ish ground alongside to move out of the way of oncoming traffic. - - Or to turn around and take the more sensible route - -

Ummmm. . .

Here, hold my beer. . .

The road gets a bit tighter as I get further into the canyon, but the grades have been minimal so far. Which, come to think of it, is actually pretty worrisome since I have to gain 1000 feet of elevation to reach the pass regardless, so delaying the climb simply means the grades out in front of me are going to be that much steeper.

So far the road has looked pretty dang good in these photos, but remember, I'm far less inclined to take photos when trying to negotiate the butt-puckering more challenging spots. . .

Oh yeah! You can't really see it in the photo, but now we're climbing!

The nice thing about true 4-wheel drive vehicles is the ability to shift down into the Low range when confronted by steep grades that require a lot of pulling. - - Huh? Oh that's right. The Van is 2-wheel drive - - My bad.

Fortunately for me it's also a diesel and develops its max torque at a mere 1400 RPM. That's about 6 MPH in first gear, which is good when you are trying to lift a 7000 pound van up steep and rocky "roads". (Horsepower is what determines how fast you can hit the wall, torque determines how far you can power your way through the wall once you hit it.)

But you see that turn up ahead?

That's the sharpest, steepest switchback in the road, so I have to put the camera down now because in a moment I'm going to be (hopefully!) up behind those bushes on the left side of the photo.

OK, we made it around the switchback and after I get around that there curve up ahead the pass itself shouldn't be too much farther. At least that's what I'm hoping since I've already kinda exceeded my excitement quota for the day. . .

But it is still steep here and these rocks embedded into the road might cause a bit of a traction issue, so it's time to down-camera again.

Depending on ambient air temps, under normal circumstances The Van runs a coolant temp of 196 to 204. Right now she's holding steady at 225, which, while significantly higher than normal, is well below the 250 degree max and even a safe distance below my personal limit of 240. (Of course, up here just how the hell would I pull to the side and let things cool down if I do hit that 240 limit?)

This final stretch up to the pass is an iffy bit of road, with no place to make-way for opposing traffic, though technically, since I'm upbound, I'm the one with the right-of-way, (This is normal protocol because it's safer for a downbound vehicle to back up against the force of the engine than for an upbound vehicle to coast down backwards relying completely on brakes for control.) though we all know that there are people out here that take their cut out of the middle and to hell with everyone else, but I risk it anyway and stop to roll the window down and take a quick photo of where I just came from, though the road below, just underneath the drooping tip of that branch on the left side of the photo, is difficult to see in the shadow of the ridge.

And yes, I'm holding onto the camera real tight because if I drop it right here it's definitely gone!

OK. I just topped over the pass and there's an immediate improvement in the road in both degree-of-grade and 'move over' (or turn around!) opportunities.

And it stays this way to the western border of the National Forest, (Even though it was a Sunday I didn't encounter any other vehicles until just before I got to the west edge of the National Forest.)

where the road once again becomes spaciously wide and smooth.

See those wide shoulders? See the wheel-tracks in the one on the right? These shoulders are smoothed out regularly and the border patrol likes to drive the wrong way down them with their head hanging out the window looking for foot-tracks in the dirt.

I thought about it, but only briefly. OK. Honestly, it wasn't really all that hard to resist the urge to pull over and lay down a bunch of boot-tracks that looked like they were crossing the road and disappearing into the desert. . .

These border-guys have no sense of humor and though I may have proved that I'm carrying a pair (More likely missing a few marbles!) by crossing the pass in The Van, my balls aren't that big!

So it wasn't a walk in the park, in fact of the three passes I have, or will, cross on FS roads this trip Middlemarch, though not the longest or highest, was probably the most challenging in terms of combined road-surface and grade - and pucker-factor.

I certainly wouldn't recommend that any but the more robust of class-Bs or shortest of trailers behind a good strong vehicle attempt it, and perhaps not even those if 2-wheel drive and powered by a gasoline engine. And trying to drag a 'normally' constructed (read thrown together as quickly as possible with cheap materials and staples)  travel-trailer over the pass is just begging for tossed contents, busted furniture, failed appliances, and leaking windows as the road-surface thrashes things around back there - assuming you don't fall off the road first that is.

Now, what do you mean you drank my beer?!!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Middlemarch Canyon Trail

Today I set out to hike the Middlemarch Canyon Trail (#277).

To get there I hike back up the Cochise Trail for about a mile then hang a left at a trail sign I didn't bother photographing for some reason.

About a mile later, after gaining about 600' since leaving the campground, I turned around, facing north, and took this photo.

While the Cochise Trail curls around to the west (to the left in the photo) and goes up the canyon where the arrow is pointing, Middlemarch Canyon Trail, roughly the red line, tracks nearly due south along the eastern flank of Cochise Peak which is off my left shoulder here.

While you would expect these two trails to be similar, Middlemarch showed a lot more of the extreme wear of heavy horse-traffic than the Cochise trail did.

And it might just be me, but Middlemarch seemed to have a whole lot more of this sort of loose gravel that is slicker than a plastic kids pool filled with slimy marbles.

But it isn't long before I can see the notch I'm headed for, and, even though, after all the hiking I've already done, it still seems a long ways up there (Like Cochise yesterday, Middlemarch topped out at 1000' higher than the campground.)

I'm inspired to continue on. (OK, I have no idea why I said that, other than the fact that since I kept going I must have had some reason or other???)

As I approach the notch the rocks ease up and it becomes downright bucolic up here. In fact I came across a spot where a crew was obviously getting ready to replace an old fence-line that had completely failed over the years, implying that livestock are roaming around up here, though I never saw any.

Just over the notch I came to a spot with a view to the east across Sulpher Springs Valley some 40 miles to the Chiricahua Mountains on the far side with Sulfur Hills sitting right in the middle.

But, as nice as this view is, that's not my main purpose in hiking this trail today.

For several days I've known that when I leave the Dragoons I'm going southwest to Sierra Vista and the Huachuca Mountains.

The route from here to there with the fewest driving miles is across the Dragoons on Middlemarch Road, otherwise known as FR 345, which goes over Middlemarch Pass.

Three-number Forest Roads can be iffy for vehicles without 4-wheel drive, especially large vehicles like The Van. (In the world of RV's The Van is small, in the world of Forest Roads it's pretty damn big!) and I've been waffling back and forth on whether to attempt it or not.

One moment deciding to try Middlemarch, the next chickening out and convincing myself that when the time comes it would be eminently sensible to go around the longer way on actual highways.

From the heights of Middlemarch Canyon Trail I will be able to see for myself what the road, there at the end of the red arrow, looks like as it climbs the east side of Middlemarch pass, which is around behind that ridge under the black arrow.

So I found myself a good vantage point, short of hiking the rest of the way down into the canyon below then up the pass that is,

zoomed my camera in,

and took as close a look as I could from here.

Frankly, with the bulky weight of The Van on my shoulders, I thought the road looked a little dicey, and during that long hike back to the campground I continued to flip-flop on whether I was going to attempt it tomorrow or not. . . In that sense this hike was a bust, but it was still a great day out on the trail.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Dragoon Mountains: Cochise Trail

November 2019 in real time

Sunrise is behind me, just kissing the top of the western canyon wall while the moon sets.

Cochise Stronghold Campground is nestled deep in a north-south canyon with the walls rising steeply on the east and west sides, so the sun takes its time getting down here in the morning and is quick to leave in the afternoon.

Combined with the heavy tree-cover this is not good for solar production, but it is what it is, and right now it's time to go hiking.

But before I hitch the pack up onto my shoulders, there can be a bit of confusion here in the campground that I think is worth pointing out.

Just off the left side of this photo, and to the immediate west of the pit-toilets, is an unmarked outdoor-interpretation area.

It's really too small to be called a trail, but by the time you've made the circuit of the 8 or so info-plaques. it does require enough steps to register on your fit-bit.

This is all tucked into the trees and there's no obvious signage visible from the loop-road, so if the guy in the next site hadn't mentioned it I would have overlooked it entirely.

Later, when I had access to the web again, I did find a single mention of this spot which is described as a barrier free nature trail.

Which makes it easy to confuse with the half-mile nature trail loop that is not barrier-free and is accessed via the foot-bridge next to the east side of the pit toilets.

This completely separate trail covers the natural history and flora/fauna of the Dragoons while that first, barrier free "trail" covers the human history of the area.

Both are worth checking out, in my humble opinion anyway.

This is an example of one of my "screen-grab" trail maps taken from the Federal Lands Interactive Visitor Map

But the primary draw for hikers here is the Cochise Trail (#279) that connects the East and West Stronghold Canyons

It's said that Cochise and his band used this trail to move from one side of the Dragoons to the other while being hounded by the US Army.

Originally I got sidetracked when writing the post and had a pretty wordy summary of the Chiricahua Apaches and US Army in here, but in retrospect it was just too much.

So let's just say that, as usual, when revisionist history finally gives way to facts, nobody comes off looking very good, nor all bad.

Anyway. . . Away from the accouterments of modern life, such as roads and stuff, you can start to get a sense of how productive this land would have been for the early inhabitants

that knew how to utilize the resources.

It's actually not very apparent from the loop-road, but to get to the Cochise Trail cross the foot-bridge just east of the pit toilets, hang a left and follow the nature trail about a third of the way around before hanging another left.

You're not there yet, but you are getting closer.

You will soon come to a wash lined with oak, cottonwood, and sycamore.

Shortly after picking your way across the wash and up the far bank you will t-bone into the Cochise trail.

Left, or north takes you back down the canyon to the horse trailer parking area, (The campground is too small for horse trailers)

Right will take you up the canyon along the Cochise Trail.

Though the trail is well signed, these are old signs that still bear the old trail number as well as the "Indian" which has now been dropped from the trail name. Someday the budget will allow them to catch up. (Interesting [or not] bit of trivia. Many of the Navajo that live to the north of here prefer to be called Indians rather than Native Americans.)

From here the trail climbs

 up through oak, sycamore, and juniper forest

gradually getting rockier

and less treed as the elevation increases

until you are in the same sort of weathered volcanic terrain that marks the upper reaches of the Chiricahua Mountains to the east.

I call this guy Insecure Rabbit.

Can you see him jumping up and down shouting "Hey, look at me!  Here I am! Over here!"?

About two miles up the trail you will come across the Half Moon Tank.

I should have gotten a better picture of the dam itself, which was surprisingly tall, but can you imagine hauling all that concrete and the necessary lumber for the forms up here to make this thing?!

From these carvings at one end of the dam I surmise that it was built in 1952, perhaps by the Green Brothers, or maybe for them,

most likely to create a more stable water supply for the Half Moon Ranch, but my on-line attempts to find any verifiable history about this not-inconsiderable project were unsuccessful.

Regardless, tucked in behind the dam and well off the trail is a great private lunch spot, which I took advantage of on my way back down the trail.

But first, it was onward and upward because the divide between the east and west sides of the Dragoons is another mile up the trail.

At the divide you will run into the second of the fences designed to keep livestock from wandering into areas they're not supposed to be.

Just on the other side of the fence I had a view down through the notch of West Stronghold Canyon of the Whetstone Mountains some 25 miles to the west. I also had an on-again off-again single bar of 1G reception on my phone and wrote a short text to let a fellow blogger that lives down there in the San Pedro Valley know that I was in the area. The text was like two lines long but took over 10 minutes to successfully send.

By now I was 3 miles from the campground, according to the Forest Service, 3.5 according to my GPS track, and had climbed 1000'.

A real hiker would have continued on and dropped the 900' down the steep canyon on the west side of the divide another mile and a half to where the trail terminates at the end of FR 688, which, despite being a 3 number road is usually described as a 4 wheel drive road.

From there the really ambitious can hike down FR 688 another mile or so to Council Rocks where Cochise may have sat down with General Howard and agreed to a peace. I say may because General Howards description seems to also match Slavin Gulch one more ridge to the south, but regardless, there's no disputing that scattered around Council Rocks are pictographs attributed to the Mogollon people that were in the area around 1000 years ago.

Today I was neither that ambitious, nor, apparently, a real hiker, because I turned around at the divide and started on back. The call of cheese & crackers, a good book, and a comfortable chair back at camp was just too loud today.

After stopping off at Half Moon Tank for a late lunch I headed back down into the forests below, but before getting safely back to camp I got the stink-eye from this local inhabitant. . .

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Dragoon Mountains and Cochise Stronghold Campground

(In real time this took place back in November.)

After two nights at the Bonita Canyon Campground in Chiricahua National Monument it was time for me to move on.

Not because I wanted to mind you, there are plenty more trails here to hike, but because tonight, a Thursday, the campground is fully reserved on through to Sunday, so there's no room for me.

Oh well, since my plans are as loose as the ladies (and lads) on the corner of 6th and Congress after midnight (Eww! My first thought for as loose as involved bowels and bad sushi!) I can always come back here around the middle of next week and try out that interesting looking Natural Bridge Trail which, by all accounts, is lightly used. (OK, well that didn't work out for me at all! Seems the weather had other ideas, but I'll get to that in later posts.)

Even so, I could have hung around here long enough this morning to get in another hike, but I wanted to poke my nose down the nearby Pinery Canyon Road (FR 42) and get over to the Dragoon Mountains early enough to pick up a campsite in the Cochise Stronghold Campground, Oh, and I was in need of sandwich makings which would require a store-stop too, so I headed out first thing.

After getting my nosey-nose all dusty on about the first 10 miles of Pinery Canyon Road I came to where the road was about to drop down and wrap around so tight it might do itself harm to get across a tributary of Pinery Creek. Don't get me wrong, the road out there in front of me was certainly doable, but I had other things to accomplish and decided this was a good a place as any to turn around.

By the time I got back to where I started on this badly washboarded road (It was really bad near the private inholdings just inside the western edge of the National Forest) I had used up nearly 2 hours

and I still had 50 miles of road between me and my next campsite as I crossed from one side to the other of Sulfur Springs Valley lying there between the Chiricahua Mountains on the east and the Dragoon Mountains on the west.

As I was following SR-181 south it made a sharp right turn. If I continued straight and took Kuykendall Cutoff Road down to Rucker Canyon Road, I could have turned back east towards the Chiricahua Mountains and climbed into - well - Rucker Canyon.

This was the site of another of Cochise's "strongholds" (I'm sure he just called them home. I'm also pretty sure he didn't call it Rucker Canyon.) and now there are a number of trails radiating out into the surrounding mountains.

But I took the right and after a while I was there, but I'm still a little confused as to where there was.

My map says Pearce but, after passing a single sign pointing to the "Ghost Town of Pearce" all the rest of them said I was in Sunsites.

Regardless, there were a lot of homes here, and a strong cell signal, so I pulled off the road and searched for grocery stores. I had the bread, mayonnaise, and other fixins for the sandwich I was craving, but had used up all my sliced turkey. (Why don't these people get together and package their foodstuffs so it all runs out together? When the turkey is used up, so is the bread, and so on.)

With all those homes I could see marching across the road-grided desert between the highway and the Dragoon Mountains, I was expecting more to pop up on the screen than a Dollar General, but the only other thing turned up by my search within 15 miles of my location  was a health-food store, and somehow I didn't think I would have much luck finding processed sandwich meats there.

Despite the accolades sung by some guy I met at the Blackwell Horse Camp a few years ago about the virtues of shopping at such places, I still think it's pretty bad when you have to do your grocery shopping in a Dollar General. . .

But I did, and with a fresh supply of sliced turkey (at least that's what it said on the label) in the fridge I headed west on Ironwood Road. A few miles later I came to the end-of-pavement

and then it was a few more miles to the mouth of East Stronghold Canyon.

From there it's yet again another few miles up the canyon to the campground. Or, in case you're not into camping, near the mouth of the canyon the Forest Service rents out the old, two-bedroom Half Moon Ranch headquarters - - - for $150 a night. - - - I didn't stay there - - -

Nobody is going to be skateboarding on the road up the canyon, but it's not all that bad either.

The reason I was kinda hustling to get here to the campground is that there are just 11 campsites around that loop down there - no really! they're there, just mostly tucked under the trees - and it's all FCFS.

I've found that the best time to snag a campsite in most FCFS facilities is between 1000 and 1400. Any earlier and departing campers have yet to - well - depart, any later and the competition may have sucked up all the available sites.

My timing was right and I got my site. With my geezer pass the cost was $5 a night, $10 without.

It was nice, though a little closer to the pit toilets and the trailhead than I preferred, but the only other open sites were two that were more suited to longer rigs and were side-by-side with no separation, so I left those for someone else. (Sure enough, a couple of larger rigs traveling together pulled into them later that afternoon.)

This campground, officially limited to trailers of 16', has pit toilets, no hookups, and no dump station, but lots of shade, which is a little problematic when you live on solar. . .

In fact, between those 2 nights in the equally shady Bonita Canyon Campground followed by 3 nights here, I was beginning to get lithium-ion envy as I dreamed of what life would be like with more battery capacity.