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Monday, January 23, 2023

Another Exhilarating, Exhausting Mountain Adventure!

Bonita Creek at visitors center parking lot, 1/22/23

My hiking partner wanted to introduce her new puppy to the Chiricahua National Monument and invited me to come along. We would hike a short trail, the one between Faraway Ranch and the visitors center, a trail that more or less follows Bonita Creek, does not involve climbing, and where dogs on-leash are allowed – in short, an easy trail that shouldn’t give a three-month-old puppy any trouble at all.


Over the years following our first introduction to the place, the Artist and I made countless visits to the CNM, an easy drive from the ghost town, down one of the most beautiful Cochise County roads. We picnicked along rocky Bonita Creek (bone-dry in December of 2021) and explored lovely Faraway Ranch and its history. We had walked about a mile of the trail beginning at the other end, too; however, although the trail between its two end points is only 1.2 miles, I had never walked the entire length at one go. 


My friend and I, having decided to begin our round-trip walk at the visitors center end, were delighted to see water in the creek. Not just a thin trickle, either. The park is a treasure even when the creek is dry, but running water, in Arizona, is always exciting and adds to outdoor experience.

Creek below, peak above

We stopped often, pointing out to each other particular stunning vistas and giving the puppy a chance to explore with her nose. My appreciation of the trail’s beauty was somewhat tempered by sorrow that the Artist was no longer with me, as memories of being there together came at every turn. But it was a beautiful day, and I was glad to be in the mountains. 

This is the trail???

My first challenge came when our trail, familiar to me in this stretch, took on a very unfamiliar look: I had never seen this much water in the creek that crossed the trail at right angles. My friend picked her puppy up in her arms and stepped bravely from rock to rock. I tried, but the necessary steps between rocks were too long for me to take them in stride, as it were. As I saw it, I had two choices: 


Wading the creek: The water was icy cold, and my boots not water-proof. My feet would get wet and cold. 


On the other hand –


Taking the rock route: If I slipped and fell, more than my feet would get wet, and falling on rocks could mean getting a lot more than wet. What if I slipped and fell and hit my head? No cell phone signal! Very few people on the trail that day. (The whole time we were on the trail, we saw only four other people, one couple from each direction, and all turned back from what was for us the third creek crossing.)


So I scouted out the shallowest path I could see, hiked up my jeans, and waded across. Yes, it was very cold!

Having taken the plunge already, our second creek challenge was easier for me. The creek was wider and shallower there. Again, my friend carried her puppy.

Does not look challenging You are not looking at it with cold, wet feet.

We were hoping to see coati, and those hopes were not realized on Sunday, but approaching Silver Spur meadow we saw deer and stopped to watch their lovely, easy, flowing trot across our path and up into the woods. As you might guess, the puppy was mesmerized by the sight. My year-old puppy would have barked, had she been with us.

Farther along came Challenge #3. Intrepid wader by now, I crossed pretty much with the submerged path, while my friend explored downstream for solid rocks, and a couple who had caught up with us on the trail explored upstream. The other people turned back, but my friend made a daring and successfully dry crossing while I held my breath, praying that she would not lose her footing. 

Exploring upstream before turning back


My fearless friend!

Pup in arms!

Still high and dry!

On dry land once more, we came to one of my friend’s favorite trees. It turns out she is, literally, a tree hugger! The puppy found greater interest in a trunk hollowed out by fire, as we humans admired the grain of its wood.

Oops! Puppy moved out of shot....

Now we had gone beyond my former explorings, and soon we came to something I had never seen before: the Stafford Cabin. Sweet! You can read about its history and the family who lived in the cabin here.

From there it was an easy walk to beloved Faraway Ranch, where we walked around the old house, renewed familiarity with its history, and visited with a group of people from Alaska before turning back in the direction of the visitors center, taking a slight detour from the house to go by a ranger’s cabin. One of the things I always think about at Chiricahua is how one of the grandsons, a forester with experience in public works forestry, would love the place. In my mind’s eye, I can see him here, living in this cabin and enjoying the views. 

Ranger cabin

Looking back at Faraway Ranch

Savannah-like open area

The biggest surprise of the day was manzanita in bloom – in January! 

Manzanita flowers

There were, of course, three more crossings of Bonita Creek to make on our way back – three more times for me to wade through icy water in boots and socks already soaked through, three more times for my friend to negotiate a dry, rocky crossing with puppy I her arms. End of tale: I was wet halfway up to my knees, my friend slipped and got one foot wet, the puppy managed to get into fresh, black mud, but otherwise all three of us did just fine. 


Being on the trail Sunday was definitely worth wet feet. I thought of Washington Irving on his expedition through Oklahoma territory (A Tour on the Prairies) and how important it was for their party to find a camping spot near water each night. By contrast, I would soon be back in my comfortable, warm cabin, where I could put on dry socks and relax with my own puppy. But to have seen so much water in the creek, sparkling in the sunlight, was a thrill. 

Reaching home, tired but contented, I went out for a ramble with Sunny Juliet before even changing my footwear, because my puppy needed some fun in the sun, too! -- You’re probably wondering why Sunny Juliet was not included on the adventure. She and Yogi have met each other and have compatible energy levels and play styles, so we anticipate they will be great pals soon, but Yogi is so little right now that my friend and I don’t want to stress her out too much or take a chance that she will be hurt accidentally by a rowdy, much bigger dog. The good news is that Yogi will be bigger every week, and we look forward to playtime together with the two of them. As for trail hikes with the two of them, two excited puppies on-leash, that might be more than I could handle, even with dry feet.

My girl on Big Rock (one of them)!


Anonymous said...

I SO look forward to hiking again!

Deborah said...

I Love CMN! Bob and I enjoyed being there with you and David and then you and I took Matt last year. Ah those photos of sparkling water - such joy they brought to my heart. Water!! So glad you shared your hike with us. Thank you.

Jeanie Furlan said...

I love the pictures of Bonita Creek - you can hear the water rushing over those stones! Here, there are many streams & creeks, but with water you can walk, sit or wade in, not - heavens - freezing 🥶 water from the Arizona mountains! What a wonderful reward to see Faraway Ranch and the Stafford house after your creek-crossing going and returning. I read the J.Lui & Pauline story - yikes - such pioneering spirit and work ethic! And she was 12 years old - whew! Thanks for a great hike and mesmerizing story!

P. J. Grath said...

Astonishing, isn't it? A 12-year-old pioneer wife! And her husband, 46 when they married, had left his first wife -- a whole untold story there, eh? And Pauline died 14 years later, only 26 years old. Twenty-six and in labor with her sixth child! I hope she found fulfillment in her short, hard life.

Dawn said...

So beautiful. I'd like to live in the ranger cabin too. I remember hiking in the Keewanaw in the 80s, taking off socks and shoes to wade across a freezing stream. I don't remember who I was with or where. I remember it was cold! I like the Savanah image and Juliet on her rock.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, you've just reminded me of camping in South Dakota's Black Hills. My sister and I took turns pumping cold water so the other could wash her hair, and our heads just about froze! It was August, but we were in the mountains. Kind of like another family camping trip, one year when Lake Superior in August was too cold for wading. No kidding! Rain puddles in the roads were frozen solid.

P. J. Grath said...

Deborah, well I remember driving up to Massai Point with you and Bob -- and through the beautiful Dragoon Mountains, also, in another piece of the Coronado National Forest. Very good memories!

Karen Casebeer said...

Wonderful story and pictures! Can't imagine crossing the creek as you did. You are intrepid!

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, my friend gave me the complimentary "badass" title!