Chihuahua Desert

Cochise Stronghold

It could be that there is a spirit world, a world that exists on a different frequency than we are use to acknowledging in our day to day lives.  In this place if you lie, steel, or are untrue and you don’t stick up for what you believe in or if you don’t stick to your word, than your spirit person becomes less and suffers.  This is what the Apache believe, they believe that if you are always true and unflinching and if you make the hard but right choices, than you die free and you will be soaked into the universe allowing your spirit to live forever, giving power to all.  We are told that this happened to the great Apache Chief Cochise.  During a time in American history known as the Apache Wars, Cochise was a hero for keeping his faith to his people, a champion and devotee to the truth and to his word, and in so doing honored his spirit body.  Cochise defended his lands from the bloody Mexicans to the South and the lying Americans to the North.  His physical body was and is still buried deep within his spiritual home in the Dragoon Mountains of southeast Arizona.  Cochise’s spirit was never captured and is alive and well at Cochise Stronghold.

As our loaded down minivan raced the sun’s setting light to the Stronghold, we bounced down the road quiet and calm with the jagged spine of rock mountains before us.  Would we have enough time to use the last sun rays to find the perfect camp for the next 8 days?  Yes.  We pulled into camp at the base of a protective rock barrier with a big expansive view of the setting sun.  Stepping out of the van we could feel that this place was not preserved by strict laws, or museum like encasement.  Any stories or thoughts that were previously racing through our minds of things that may or may not be happening somewhere else dissipated.  We were quietly and peacefully engulfed into the present as we set up camp that first night.  We felt safe, welcome and invited to stay there.

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 It is said that the great Apache war shaman Geronimo passed freely between the physical and the spirit world.  That is how Geronimo could run 100 miles carrying only a spoonful of water in his mouth for nourishment.  That’s how he was able to help the passing of the Apache people from the physical world to the Spirit world.  Squeezed between pain and suffering Geronimo was known to be captured on purpose in order to achieve other means.  It was common knowledge that if in battle you were charging Geronimo or had him surrounded, it was so because that was what he wanted, all of your actions were a consequence of his larger plan, which was to free the spirit of the Apache.  The Dragoon Mountain Range, our home for the week, is considered a direct portal between the two worlds. It is where Geronimo brought 150 Apaches from the San Carlos starvation camp.  He led them into this maze of jagged granite towers and canyons, possibly passing though our camp, where they eluded the United States Army and made a pact with the spirit world.

When we awoke that following morning we turned our attention to the 100 foot tall cliff that was part of our camp.  Jacob and Elias put up a target on a nearby mesquite tree and began working on bow and arrow shooting.  I stacked a rope at the base of one of the routes and Michelle belayed me up as Ila played in the dirt.  We climbed 1, 2 3 climbs and moved on to breakfast.  Michelle began homeschooling with Elias.  Jacob and I climbed more.  The climbing was physical, thoughtful and low on stress.  This was just one rock in an immense rocky landscape but we had no desire or need to move on.  This spot was so intriguing and engaging that we made this our rhythm for several days.  Views to the west brought the Serengeti to mind and the rest of the landscape, a fortress of rocks.  Our imaginations and actions remained in the present yet life felt timeless.

Sweet Rock camp 1

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At the time of the Apache Wars the policies of the US government towards the Apache were set forth by such sentiments as this by the bureau of Indian Affairs:

“This race is destined to a speedy and final extinction, all that can be expected from an enlightened and Christian government, such as ours, is to graduate and smooth the passway of their final exit from the state of human existence.”

During the late 19th century this region saw the highest concentration of forts and military presence in Western US history in order to fight the Apache.  It was also at this time that the small mining towns of the region boomed.  The precious metals being excavated from the hill sides were in high demand as were whiskey and whores.  The most infamous of these towns was Tombstone, Arizona.  During its peak Tombstone not only saw a military and mining presence but there was the smuggling of cattle across the US/ Mexico boarder.  This brought to the region the “cowboy”, originally not to be confused with a cattleman or rancher but a slang term to describe “the worst kind of outlaw that there is”.  Gunfights were common in Tombstone, Arizona with the most famous of all to take place at The OK Corral, between  “law men” Doc Holiday, Wyatt Erp and his brothers versus “The Cowboys”, the McLaury brothers and Bill Clanton.  Tombstone and it’s legacy was so rowdy and so intense this is where the term Wild West was coined.  That Wild West is now gone.

On the forth day at our camp we needed two things, water and clean laundry.  Excited to see some of these infamous local sights  we drove the 10 miles of dirt road to Tombstone and found Tombstone in what is considered by the US Park Service to be in a preserved state.  It is true that you can legally carry a gun down the street in the state of Arizona but in Tombstone you won’t need one.  It most certainly is dwelling on the past with reenactments of the shootout at the OK Corral and plenty of Old West tourist activities.  But the streets are clean, calm and preserved.  The Wild West is definitely gone.

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We continued on to Bisbee, Arizona and found a strange big hole in the ground of a town that once boomed during the industrial revolution and many booms and busts thereafter.   Copper is no longer being mined there but the town is still going strong on it’s own right.  Artists, musicians and bohemian types have taken over the very quaint little town with tight hilly streets, restaurants, galleries, hotels and pedestrian life.

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For the remainder of the week we settled back into our own little stronghold allowing our souls and spirits to flourish.  We took hikes deeper in the mountains, we pushed ourselves rock climbing and everyday we felt increasingly better.  The good work is to push yourself without distractions.  We spent time with our neighbors Jodi and Mike.  Both of them perhaps 25 years older than us and kick ass climbers. They showed us first hand that taking care of your spirit year after year keeps you strong….and happy.  Thank you Mike and Jodi for your hospitality, for letting me try the belay glasses, for the blue lollipops, the wine, the yummy truffles and the camp fire.

It was a bit sad packing up our tents at the end of our time. We discussed coming back sans kids in a bunch of years to climb some more, enjoy the magnificent sunsets and sit under the huge starry sky together. For now, we are bound to move on.

Thank you Cochise Stronghold!

Cochise Camp Elias and Ilaserengeti 1 Stronghold

Categories: Adventure, Apache, Bisbee, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Cochise, Cochise Stronghold, Family camping, Family Climbing, Geronimo, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Tombstone | 1 Comment

Chihuahua

Beaumont, a city in East Texas, close to the boarder of Louisiana is among the wetter cities in our country.  With an average annual precip of close to 70 inches a year and surrounded by lake and bayou country, it is amazing that it shares a state with El Paso.  El Paso, one of the driest cities in the country receives on average 9 inches of rain a year.  What happens in the 830 miles between these two cities is the product of this fairly abrupt transition in climates:  Severe thunderstorms with dangerously big hail and a high frequency of tornadoes.  In fact the highest number of tornadoes of any region in the country is found in Texas.  So it really should come as no surprise that when a mountain range is pushed up in the western part of this meteorological shear zone there is a high likelihood of wind, especially on the leeward side of a range where the dry winter air mass sinks and descends rapidly back down the mountain range to the other side, pulled eastward towards the humid Gulf air.  It was such a mountain that we were headed to.

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On January 2nd we drove southwest across the border into Texas and about 45 minutes away to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The mountains that make up this park were visible the whole time we were at the Whites campground.  It looked like an abrupt mountain range flanked by what seemed to be almost thousand foot tall lime stone cliffs.  We set up our camp nestled at about 5,500 feet elevation at a very cool campground at the mouth of one of the ranges intriguing valleys.  Once camp was set we were off to hike up and into the mountains.

Everyone was quite pleased to be walking.  Having spent a bit of time in the flattest landscapes of our country the towering walls that guarded the valley while we were hiking up was like medicine.  Jacob remarked that he enjoyed the hiking because it gave him time to think. Funny because we were in the car for days but it is the movement of our bodies, coupled with the openness that seems to let the thinking happen.

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There are the flat dreadfully barren expanses of landscape that appear in perhaps everyone’s subconscious when the word desert is used and then there is what happens to the desert when the landscape is not flat.  This desert mountain range acts like an expert water catcher and the strange and interesting plants that are able to make the most efficient use of this water are the norm here.  The mountain range acts like a sponge mostly because any moisture that does sneak into this area is pushed upwards by the landscape into to higher and thinner air until the air can’t hold that water anymore and it condenses.  Even though the Guadalupe’s are essentially in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert the highest elevations are completely forested.  Much of the high country is sloped northward which keeps the sun from beating down on it just that much more.  We didn’t make it that high on our hike though.  We made it up into the upper Chihuahuan life zones where plants were abundant and especially those designed to catch any water that fell.  Yuccas and cactus were all over. As we hiked higher we began reaching Junipers and Madrones which were cool to see because they are all over the place on the coast of Western Washington.  But there the Madrones are always on some south facing hill right on the coast poised to get the sunniest driest places in Western Washington.  Here they’re seeking out shade, small drainage bottoms, sort of showing a sign that more moisture is present here and not less.

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The following day we were reminded that we had gotten lucky, our hike had been warm and there was no wind at all.  That morning was very windy and cold. I made coffee and oatmeal on the little whisper light stove on the ground near some rocks instead of using our double burner Coleman stove on the comfortably arranged table. The kids and Michelle snuggled in the tent as long as they could before they needed to emerge into the wind blasts. We had to hold onto Ila! As we were packing up the wind grabbed the top of the roof rack out of my hand and flung it back aggressively.  Crack! The roof rack split and I yelled some colorful language.  That was when everyone knew I was not happy because we are one of those old school families that don’t cuss.  Somehow I put it back together and we got out of there.  Well, that was the expected norm there… wind.

We didn’t end up stopping at Hueco Tanks State Park like we had planned.  I have heard about this famous bouldering area for years and we made reservations to camp there.  When I got there I felt like it was just all wrong.  It was like if you were really craving vanilla ice cream, perhaps this has never happened to you, but you just want vanilla ice cream.  When it comes out it wasn’t ice cream at all it was like one of those weird Indian deserts…..sweet meats.  Ever try sweet meats?  Terrible.  If they bring out chocolate ice cream than it’s like, OK, that sucks, but I’ll eat it any way.  But no chocolate, it was like Indian sweet meats.  I hate that stuff.  I wanted my vanilla ice cream! Well, not only were you suppose to have reservations for camping, we were suppose to have reservations for bouldering and we were suppose to have a guide….for bouldering!  Just like I have never understood why I would ever want to eat sweet meats we weren’t even close to understanding why we would want to stay and deal with how convoluted and not relaxing the whole thing felt….so we left.

We drove on, almost directly North to a spectacular state Park called Oliver Lee State Park, which was nestled at the base of the San Andreas Mountains across the valley from the famous White Sand Dunes in New Mexico.  Here we had arrived exactly where we wanted to be and we never knew we wanted to be there.  We loved Oliver Lee State Park, we stayed there the next day and night and hiked up the fossil filled limestone canyon.  It was just us, it was great, it was better than ice cream.

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On January 5th we got up on another chilly morning and went to the largest expanse of white sand dunes on earth.  Two hundred and seventy some odd expansive square miles of desert are all made of grains of white gypsum that comes from several thousand feet higher in the mountain range directly west of the dunes.  It’s a case of the right geology and the right dry and windy climate that come together to create this very cool place.  Fortunately much of it is protected within a national monument because an enormous amount of the land between these two desert mountain ranges belongs to the US Airforce, warnings of missile testing north and south of the Monument is everywhere.

The Dunes were a sublime experience and Elias wrote about them in his Main Lesson book:

“White Sands was huge.  We went to White Sands, N.M.  It was totally not what I expected.  I thought there would be little mounds of sand, but there were huge sand dunes.  The dunes were very soft, cold, and about 60 to 100 feet tall.  When we left New Mexico we went to Arizona but that’s just another story.”

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After the sand dunes and many days of literally freezing mornings, I promised everyone we were headed to warmer places.  We kept lucking out with a warm day here and there in this windy desert but the weather was about to get quite a bit colder.  The last mission in Chihuahuan Desert was to go find an authentic Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces.  On the drive in we settled on a brew pub that looked like it would take care of business.  When we shuffled in to find our seats all of the locals were starring hard especially as Michelle attempted to nurse Ila.  Most of them looked like they had never smiled in their lives.  No way.  I got everyone up and even though everyone was getting hungry and cranky we piled back in the car and resorted back to plan A:  authentic Mexican.  Since it was Sunday in Las Cruces it took awhile but we found it and it was sooooo good – the real deal.   Back in the car and off seeking the sun.

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Family camping, Family Climbing, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Hiking, Homeschooling, Hueco Tanks State Park, Oliver Lee State Park, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, San Andreas Mountains, White Sands New Mexico | Leave a comment

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