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Monday, January 31, 2022

What About Adventure?


In past years when we’ve returned to northern Michigan springtime, more than one friend there has said of my desert and mountain adventures in the Southwest, “Your blog got me through the winter!” Those readers must be disappointed so far in this season’s posts, but as the Good Book says, there is a “time for everything,” and the Artist and I are starting to get out again. We have yet to explore any thrilling new roads; however, many familiar roads continue to thrill. Such for us is the drive up Fort Grant Road out of Willcox to Bonita and on through the Pinaleño Mountains by way of Stockton Pass. 

See this building in Nicholas Cage movie "Red Rock West"

Last Wednesday we made that trip once again, and as we were driving east from the little crossroads of Bonita (long ago a town of 1,000 people, with a population that doubled when soldiers on leave swarmed in to visit taverns and other houses of pleasure) toward the pass I remarked to the Artist that one of my favorite words is bajada. I like the word for itself, for its sound, as well as for giving a name to something I see in mountain country – and also because it calls to mind one of my favorite Dos Cabezas wildflowers, the lovely, shy little bajada lupine.

As I was explaining this landform to the Artist, I compared it to a river delta: as I see it, bajada is to mountain and range as delta is to river and ocean. Then it occurred to me for the first time -- and I haven't checked on this anywhere, but it makes perfect sense to me -- why a delta is called a delta. Look at its shape: Δ. Like the Greek letter, n’est-ce pas?

How could this road ever grow old for us? Besides its breathtaking beauty, every one of the 20 scenic miles (from Bonita to Hwy 191) is by now saturated with memories for us of stopping here and there for picnics and photo shoots and explorations among rocks and alligator junipers with each other and Sarah and, later, Peasy. We miss them (little Pea we miss dreadfully!), but in the mountains, my spirit still soars.


Stockton Pass is up in Graham County, but familiar travels here in Cochise County please us, also. Sometimes we take the Kansas Settlement Road down to the Mustang Mall and come back what we call the Chiricahua way. That’s “going around the block” 100 miles, and as we pass the road to the Monument (or come out the road from the Monument and turn back to the north before the road once again heads west), I am always happy to see the sign announcing the distance to Dos Cabezas. It is only a ghost town, with “no services” – no gas station or convenience store, nowhere to get a cup of coffee – but for us in winter it is home.

Chiricahuas in background

From Chiricahuas home to Dos Cabezas

My armchair travel too is filled with adventure. Reading Edwin Way Teale’s North with the Spring for the third time in my life, I’m feeling as if it’s my first encounter with the book, more immediately meaningful now that I have my own memories of the Everglades and have seen for myself a painted bunting (here in Dos Cabezas two years ago this coming spring). 


…How many times, on overcast winter days, had we looked at pictures of bathers toasting in the Florida sunshine and thought of how happy, happy we would be if we were only there! And here we were, where we had dreamed of being, on our trip with the spring we had so long planned, in the very midst of days we would look back upon as long as we lived—and we were unhappy! I viewed myself with amazement. Yet still I wandered irritated and disconsolate along the Sanibel beach.


-      Edwin Way Teale, North with the Spring



Even the noted naturalist had these feelings, you see, for we take ourselves with us wherever we go, and the Teales had a special heartache, having lost their only son in battle in World War II before they set out to follow spring north from the Everglades. Weary and heartsore, they were pushed by bleak February, “the shortest and longest month of the twelve," as he calls it, to flee northern winter. Unhappy passages in the book are few and brief, however; I only mention them because they stand out to my notice now in ways they never had before.


Here is a wonderful, thoughtful passage more like Teale’s general outlook:


…Gathering driftwood for a fire is a comforting occupation. It is direct and obvious in a world of confusing complexities. The benefits can be seen at once. There are no lost or hidden links in the chain of action. Cause and effect, effort and result, are apparent at a glance. 


Isn't that lovely?

Another book I’m reading this week is one I was delighted to find by chance, never having heard of the author before. My delight comes from the fact that Susan Cummins Miller is a geologist and has set her mystery in the Chiricahua Mountains, right down the road from our winter digs! Serendipity comes to my rescue once again! And the boots came to me the very same day, so how lucky is that? 



Dawn said...

I'm glad you're out and about. Memories will be everywhere, but at least some of them will make you smile. It's still cold here, and snow predicted even down here. Enjoy your sunny skies!

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Dawn. I wouldn't. mind some snow here, as we've seen other winters. Love to Katie!

Jeanie Furlan said...

Love your sunny,clear mountain photos! The Chiricahua range is just beautiful, and what a coincidence that Ms. Miller’s book is about your area. The boots are just perfect for getting in the right mood for exploring! I like your delta vs. bajada comparison: it really does make sense. Please do tell what that is called, when something “is to“ something else….I always get those names confused! It’s so good to see you and David out and remembering many past trips, even though they might bring real sadness. Like in Mr. Teale’s book. Oh! Is there a land formation of Two Heads around your house, as in Dos Cabezas?

P. J. Grath said...

Jeanie, the word you are looking for is analogy, and while we don't commonly use the "is to/as" formation in conversation, it is the basis for the famous (or infamous) exam that would-be law students take, the Miller Analogies Test.

The Dos Cabezas range does indeed have twin peaks at its highest point, and you have seen one of them often in my photos, but from our situation in the ghost town they are lined up one behind the other. You have to go a bit east of west for the second "head" to appear. The Apache name for them was Two Tails, however, and sometimes I see the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas ranges as two large rattlesnakes, tail to tail. What you see, then, depends both on your spatial perspective and your mental references.

Here is an old post with photographs of the Chiricahuas after a snowstorm. The last shot in the series is Dos Cabezas.

I have been dipping into a Mary Austin book, LAND OF JOURNEYs' ENDING, kind of a bookend to her other famous work, LAND OF LITTLE RAIN, and she makes the point that knowing the language of a place is indispensable to knowing the place. I have a wonderful book back home in Michigan that I want to reference here but can't recall the title, and while I want to say it was edited by John McPhee, I can't seem to find it easily with an online search. What it is, basically, is an illustrated encyclopedia of land forms. I love to leaf though it at random, never knowing when I will find something that illuminates something I've seen often but never had a name for. Bajada is one of those names.

Jeanie Furlan said...

Ohhhhh! What a beautiful series of photos of your mountains in the SNOW! As you note, the contrast of light and dark, of melted snow and snow-covered tops make the whole range and the trees, look so different from non-snowy pictures. So alive! I love when a big cloud darkens a whole plot of land - hah! I wonder if Susan Cummins Miller’s book, Hoodoo, will tell you more about the Chiricahua origins. Thanks for that snowy slideshow! (Yes, I saw the two heads or two snakes!) I can see why you’d want to drive those roads many times and at different hours of the day: the mountains change! I’ll bet the Artist gets a hoot ‘n a holler and feels better being around that astounding nature.

P. J. Grath said...

-- I have it! The author and title I couldn't remember: Barry Lopez, HOME GROUND.

Glad you went back and looked at the snow-covered Chiricahuas. That was quite a day. Stunning. The Artist really misses water here in the Southwest, but I am definitely in love with mountains, and he can't help responding to their grandeur, either.