When I was a boy in elementary school, the classes were equipped with maps mounted on pedestals usually positioned off the to side of the classroom and the maps, I suppose they were more like map stands – with multiple maps in layers, were large enough to be used in instruction from the front of the class so they were actually large enough that important features like national borders, capitol cities and the like were easily seen by the kids in the class – even the kids in back. So you could stare at these things from your little desk while the teacher was droning on and on and on about something or another. I don’t remember much of what they said, but I would stare at those maps and dream of far-away places while waiting for the bell to ring and recess to begin.
I remain attracted to mysterious far-away places even after visiting a fair number of interesting places in my life. And maps still pique my curiosity, (yes, to this day I cannot stand boring meetings!) but even more powerful than a map, is the draw of a distant landscape feature while traveling in unfamiliar territory.
How long ago it was I cannot quite remember, must have been a year or two ago. I was traveling along an Arizona highway and it had to have been highway 191 northbound in Southeastern Arizona just a bit south of Safford. It had been a long trip so far and I remember looking off to the west with tired eyes and casually noting a distant mountain range. I drove for a awhile longer, and there it was still in view; mighty, far off and majestic. And I thought, “that must be a huge mountain!” Later, I looked up the mountains – they are the Pinaleno Mountains sacred to the Apache tribe and home to three large astronomical observatories:
- The Large Binocular Telescope
- Heinrich Hertz Sub-millimeter Telescope
- Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope
Yes, to the Apaches it’s sacred ground; and the Holy See has an observatory up there. Fascinating. I resolved to visit someday. I finally got to it last weekend. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinaleno_Mountains
Travel agenda: Head for the hills via Safford, Arizona and party at Roper Lake, and overnight it there. Early the next morning, drive the Swift Trail Junction and up the Pinalenos to Hospital Flat and continue partying and picnicking.
We would be traveling with a full security detail of Sergeant Gremlin (a munsterlander/doberman mix) Corporal Dali (a chihuahua/dachshund mix) and Buck Private Flynn (a poodle / lab mix) who was celebrating her recent promotion to buck private from her demotion to sub-buck private – which is another story for another day.
If you will recall, this security team had already distinguished itself in exemplary fashion by protecting us from the vampire armies infesting the Arizona / Mexico border as documented in the important Tarantino film “From Dawn To Dusk“.
Let’s face it; sacred grounds may very well be populated by various spirit-like entities that might not take kindly to strangers… angry poltergeist-like evil spirit possession in the middle of absolute nowhere (but potentially within shouting distance of the Vatican Observatory – oh the humanity!) is a huge buzz-kill.
Departure: Tempe, Arizona, 9:00 AM, 0 miles, 98 deg F, elevation 1107 ft.
Our route was east on 60 to Globe, and then continue to Safford on highway 70. But we had to stop in old-town Globe because it rocks. And we needed coffee.
Globe, 10:30 AM, 77 miles, 93 deg F, elevation 3590 ft.
Our first via point was to be Safford, Arizona, and I had been through Safford on a number of occasions – just about everyone I know out here has been through Safford; but in defense of Safford, there is a great Mexican Restaurant (not a ‘Bertos…) right at the highway 191 junction; but this time we got a hot tip about an excellent Bed and Breakfast in Safford with an even more excellent bakery attached. So we went there; but if you want to check it out hurry – they’re selling the place and moving out.
Safford, 12:11 PM, 155 miles, 101 deg F, elevation 3013 ft.
The bakery visit was perfect; a refined atmosphere amidst rough pioneer surroundings – I had a chocolate filled croissant and coffee and my travel partner had some sort of flaky crumbly thing (I don’t care for that sort of thing on the road) and as an added bonus, and I’m sure the proprietors appreciated this; in fact the owner was sitting in the patio surrounded by her followers and admirers; Buck Private Flynn discovered a cat infestation on the property, and took immediate action. The engagement was short, violent, and conclusive. Excellent. I’m sure the owned was so relieved that she simply forgot to thank us as we hastily departed.
We continued to Roper Lake without further incident.
Roper Lake, 2:00 PM, 165 miles, 105 deg F, elevation 3109 ft.
This is a busy destination as people flee the heat and head for the cooling lake waters – there is a swimming beach as well as boat launches and shore fishing areas. It’s a family place, lots of kids and moms and sun and bar-b-ques, great facilities, campsites with fire-pits and grills, guys tooling around in ATVs, group campers, did I mention lots of kids? As you approach the lakeside swimming area on a little dirt trail that leads to a biggish parking lot, the lake just beyond, you can hear the kids in the water laughing and splashing and yelling and having a wonderful time.
A nice mom with two little girls approached us – her kids and wanted to pet the dogs – naturally Buck Private Flynn noticed that one of the little girls didn’t know the secret password and may have been possessed by demonic forces, lunged at her and bit her face, knocking her to the ground, the child got up crying and thankfully the skin wasn’t broken; Corporal Dali then checked her out and immediately found that indeed, she was not possessed by the undead, and proceeded to love on her and she stopped crying right away. Mom didn’t even flinch, “oh ya know we got big dogs; they do that all the time…“. These Arizona people are tough. I love these people.
But more to the point, every mission-oriented unit needs a corporal – I was a career corporal in the military. Every time I got promoted, I made sure I got busted back to corporal. I retired a corporal which in the US Military is an achievement. Anyhow, my lovely travel companion proceeded to lake swimming – while the troops and I performed a patrol of the area while we still had daylight and it was still above 100 deg F. Purifying the heat is.
Besides the charms I’ve already mentioned, there are over five miles of trails around the lake, a nature pond three miles to the south, a hot springs, and a dog-run area. After our grueling recon of the area, need I mention we were in the shadows of the mighty Pinalenos, I availed myself to the hot-springs then proceeded to the doggie area which conveniently is just across the street:
With camp pitched, we retired for the evening and as it was, the Big Dipper was framed perfectly in our tent screen as we lay on air mattresses in the +100 deg temperature. With that heat, we didn’t sleep as much as dozed off; and each time I woke, the Big Dipper had move just a little. It did cool off around 4:00 AM. It was an awesome, magical night.
Departure Roper Lake, 07-10-16, 8:00 AM, 166 miles, 91 deg F, elevation 3109 ft.
Time had come to head up to the mighty Pinaleno Mountains and Mount Graham – mysterious sacred ground, and the highest mountain in Southeast Arizona. This general mountainous area is known as a “Sky Island” – an abruptly mountainous expanse jutting up from the surrounding rough, rocky and arid desert floor.
“Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments. This has significant implications for natural habitats. Endemism, altitudinal migration, and relict populations are some of the natural phenomena to be found on sky islands.
The complex dynamics of species richness on sky islands draws attention from the discipline of biogeography, and likewise the biodiversity is of concern to conservation biology. One of the key elements of a sky island is separation by physical distance from the other mountain ranges, resulting in a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert.
Some sky islands serve as refugia for boreal species stranded by warming climates since the last ice age. In other cases, localized populations of plants and animals tend towards speciation, similar to oceanic islands such as the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador.”
Depending on the source, I had read that on this particular Sky Island, there are either five or six separate and distinct ecological systems dependent on altitude and location. Within each of these unique locales, specialized animals and plants had evolved and adjusted to living there – and nowhere else. This set my mind to thinking… if there are specialized plants and animals associated with each ecosystem; there very well may be five or six different types of malevolent spirits, various undead, sprites, nymphs, satyrs, and other lost souls, uniquely adapted to each ecosystem.
We would have to be in a high state of readiness. To that end, we stopped at the Mt Graham Market to replenish our ice-chest; just at the base of the ascent up highway 366 AKA the Swift Trail which takes you up and into the Pinalenos.
Mount Graham Market, 08:15 AM, 170 miles, 88 deg F, elevation 3238 ft.
Our first stop was Noon Creek Picnic Camping and Picnic area; and I am going to start providing latitude and longitude coordinates:
Noon Creek Campground – Picnic Area, 08:20 AM, 177 miles, 85 deg F, elevation 5167 ft, 32.66828, -109.79632
Noon Creek was nice and quiet – no one up there. Notice how the temperature is dropping as we gain altitude – as the day progressed, it would be getting hotter on the desert below; and out here it can get hot by mid-morning, and then just get hotter all day with the high around 4:00 PM.
That’s what is so murderous about the heat here in Arizona – we can have days that are start hot; and get hotter and hotter. It can be 100 degrees F by 9:00 AM and go up from there. But as one gains significant altitude in relation to sea-level, at least in the troposphere, it gets cooler. This is called the atmospheric lapse-rate. https://www.britannica.com/science/lapse-rate
Hmmm… if it cools by 18.8 degrees F per mile and there are 5280 feet per mile, that means there is a cooling per foot of 18.8 degrees per mile / 5280 feet per mile. Miles cancel. So there is 0.00356 degrees cooling per foot gain in elevation, all other factors being equal, due purely to the atmospheric lapse rate. Interestingly, beyond the troposphere up in the upper reaches of the stratosphere (this is rocket territory – no terrestrial features extend beyond the troposphere; not even Mount Everest.) the lapse rate reverses and gets hotter then colder as you reach outer space. This stuff is just nice to know.
So we will be racing with time of day, vs. atmospheric lapse rate for our local temperature. Of course it will be cooler on top of the mountain compared to the desert floor, but let’s track altitude, time of day and temperature; keep in mind we are going up the mountain today and then back down to the desert floor.
Our next stop was:
Wet Canyon Picnic, 09:00 AM, 179 miles, 83 deg F, elevation 6131 ft, 32.6513, -109.81312
This was a beautiful stop with a nice expanded sort of turnout parking area and a couple of picnic tables as well as a trail that traced up the creek shown here. You know, take a close look at the creek rocks – it’s like the water has a magical property that turns the stones into living flesh, and it looked just like that too! I was afraid to touch the living stone fleshy part of the rocks as it might have been actually alive, and may have murmured at my touch or even cried out! There were also a small cloud of blue colored moths or butterflies swarming about at one point and they caught my attention. Beautiful actually. A wonderfully magical spot.
And let’s check the lapse rate considering our last stop – we’ve climbed (6131 – 5167) * 0.00356 = 3.4 deg F and (85 – 83) deg F = 2.o deg F. Hmmm… at least we are getting cooler.
We continued to climb the winding switchback highway ever higher and stopped at:
Arcadia Campground, 09:15 AM, 181 miles, 79 deg F, elevation 6594 ft, 32.64875, -109.81869
I recommend camping here. At this elevation, it is like the high sierras – tall pines, breeze whispering through the trees, your nostrils assaulted by intoxicating, cleansing aromas of purity and cleanliness. Sunlight breaks through the trees producing dramatic contrasts of shadows and brilliant light. Suddenly, you cannot speak above a whisper and you feel utterly liberated, yet insignificant. And I bet Phoenix was like 101 F by then. Speaking of which, it was clear by now that lapse rate isn’t all there is to it; temperature also has to do with environment and we had crossed some sort of ecological barrier into another ecosystem. The flat lands were forgotten. I let the dogs loose to check for evil spirits; but there were none – only peace and goodness and silence and beauty.
And we continued up the mountain to Hospital Flats. The last four miles of the ascent are unpaved.
Hospital Flats, 10:15 AM, 194 miles, 70 deg F, elevation 9083 ft, 32.6665, -109.87406
Hospital Flats got its name back in 1880s:
“In the 1880s, the campground served as the site for a field hospital for ailing soldiers from nearby Fort Grant, hence its name. The restorative powers of this cool, high-elevation location also attracted officers and their families seeking a summer refuge from desert heat. Today, Hospital Flat serves as popular getaway for outdoor enthusiasts and campers.”
So we stopped for a picnic. This looked like a good spot for a picnic:
There are places on this planet that have a vibe. I’m convinced of this because I’ve experienced it. I had probably been aware of it before (like the Alps in Southern Germany when I was there in 1973…), but the first time I consciously noted this phenomena was when I spent time in Santa Barbara, Ca in the late 70’s. There was just something happening in the air, in the water, in the entire place that was like, vibrating, and vibrating at a distinctive frequency. A Vibe. A pleasant, welcoming vibe. A vibe that immediately tuned you to a higher frequency.
Hospital Flats is such a place. Check it out:
We set up our portable camp stove – I had had little luck getting a fire started in the provided fire ring – and cooked a nice picnic lunch. Then we went on a hike:
This Eden of a place is in south-eastern Arizona. In mid-summer. A secluded, private, isolated paradise.
After taking more than a few deep breaths and making our own private peace with this place, we mounted up for the trip back to the flat-lands and the austere beauty of the desert only a few short miles below.
The road back, and you can see in the distance below, the rugged desert awaiting on the low-lands.
Once we got off the mountain, we decided that instead of tracing our steps directly back taking highway 191 north back to 70, we would instead head south and pick up highway 266 west to Bonita, and then continue on along the Bonita Aravaipa Road essentially looping around the south edges of the Pinalenos with another mysterious Sky Island to our south, the remote and forbidding Galiuro Wilderness.
The plan seemed to be working until the road ran out at Bonita – it turned into a dirt track.
The map showed it as a road… not the first time this had happened to us out in the Arizona nowhere lands! We decided that before it got late, we should navigate a way home that assured us we would actually get home; and we headed south and picked up highway 10 east of Tucson. Getting back to Tempe from there was simply a matter of time, with the usual gas and rest stops along the way; but basically a simple, scenic drive through the 100+ degree desert landscape. Pleasant enough considering the amazing things we had seen that day.
As we were driving home along a relatively familiar route on a super-highway, we had that same old conversation about faulty maps. The last time this happened, the map clearly showed a southern access to the Estrella Mountains – well, the southern half of the Estrella Mountains are on an Indian reservation… I can assure you there was no road – even though the map showed it! What I do in these cases is get home and consult Google Earth and zoom in and see just what the satellite sees.
And I did the same thing upon getting home only to find that that dirt track actually does eventually go through to highway 70; but about 40 minutes from where we were and about halfway to highway 70 you end up here: http://www.peyoteway.org/index.php
The desert Southwest. Always an adventure.