Snow, that is. We’re from Michigan and have seen lots of snow, and we’ve seen snow before in Arizona, too, both in the winters of 2015 and 2018 and now again in 2018-19. But when the forecast for last Friday promised “severe weather,” with possible accumulations of up to 22” at our elevation, that out of the ordinary. So when I got up Friday morning, then, after a night of wind and rain, I’ll admit I was disappointed to see not a snowflake in sight. The temperature was dropping, however — not what temperature generally does here between 6 and 8 a.m., but drop it did — and by 8:30 the rain at last turned to snow, and the white stuff came down nonstop all day. Well, down and sideways and sometimes even up.
|Wash behind cabin on Friday morning|
We didn’t even walk down to the mailbox that day, let alone start the car and drive to town. Instead, except for meals and a couple of dog sorties, we had quiet hours of reading and conversation — also lots of looking out the windows, on my part.
Saturday brought another blue sky morning, with bright sun shining down not only on snowy peaks but also on white mountainsides and snow-filled washes, every branch and twig of mesquite bearing its tracery of snow. I don’t know how long I stood gazing, mesmerized, at the south-facing cabeza, the one we see from the cabin, watching it disappear into and reappear from the clouds, changing moment by beautiful moment.
The gentler rises, the ones without dramatic rocky peaks, were transformed by snow, as well, their basic structures, contours, and stegosaurian ridges made more readily visible and obvious by the contrast of dark and light.
Mountain folds were softened, shadow effects made sharper. Overwhelmed on our drive to meet a friend in Willcox, and knowing the snow effects to be ephemeral, I couldn’t turn my head quickly enough to take it all in.
Then, the Artist and I couldn’t help but think: if mountains we knew as everyday neighbors were so breathtakingly and dramatically changed by snow, what would the always dramatic Chiricahuas be like on such a day? And how many opportunities would we have to answer that question for ourselves? Would there ever be such another winter snow in southern Arizona for us? Maybe not. And so we set out down the road toward the Chiricahua National Monument, a road that never fails to please and even to thrill on the most ordinary of days, which this was decidedly not.
Oh, those ancient, majestic sycamores! What must it be like, ranching in such grandeur?
I was not disappointed that the road up to Massai Point was closed. The excitement of narrow, shoulderless, icy mountain roads I do not require. Anyway, we still had loveliness to encounter, by taking the road south from the monument to “go around the block,” the long way home, stopping to admire trees sparkling with snow in the washes.
I’ve altered my final image for the day, a shot of Dos Cabezas as we neared home again, taking out the color to leave only black and white and shades of gray. The result, I think, emphasizes what snow does to highlight mountain contours. By late afternoon when this shot was taken, the snow had melted on the lower slopes. There was not a cloud in the sky, but see how the mountain makes its own shadows with a little help from the sun? Sufficient unto itself.
One more thing: I am currently reading John McPhee’s Rising From the Plains, which tells the story (among others) of the formation of Wyoming’s Rawlins Uplift and the formation of the Medicine Bow and Snowy Mountains, and not for the first time I am frustrated at not having the complete story of the origin of the Dos Cabezas Mountains. The Grand Canyon story is well told and widely available. The Rocky Mountains garner plenty of attention. The Chiricahua National Monument has brochures and books explaining the volcanic beginnings of that range of southeast Arizona “sky islands.” But more and more I realize that one story does not explain all mountain ranges, that every range has its unique history not duplicated exactly anywhere else on earth. And I want to know the history of my mountains, as well as that of others in the neighborhood. It occurs to me that if I were obscenely rich, I would commission a whole staff of geologists to research and publish the history of every mountain range in Arizona. What a project that would be! The first installment, though, would have to be the Dos Cabezas Mountains, because I am not living in the scale of geologic time and can’t wait ten million years.
…The Teton landscape contained not one the most complete geologic history in North America but also the most complex. …After half a century with the story assembling in his mind, he [geologist David Love] can roll it like a Roman scroll. From the Precambrian beginnings, he can watch the landscape change, see it move, grow, collapse, and shuffle itself in an intricate, imbricate manner, not in spatial chaos but by cause and effect through time. He can see it in motion now, in several ways responsively moving in the present—its appearance indebted to the paradox that while the region generally appears to have been rising the valley has collapsed. - John McPhee, Rising From the Plains
This is what I want for the Dos Cabezas Mountains: a temporal scroll of its entire geologic history, the picture of its changes, as they unfolded, over all of time.