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Monday, February 6, 2023

She Took No Books!

On Sunday I woke up crabby. The heater had gone off in the middle of the night, and the house was cold. Getting up to deal with that, I remembered another reason to be crabby: my coffee house in Willcox is closed. Not “on vacation,” but closed, its future dim with mystery. Source of Coffee, my David place in Willcox! The name, Source of Coffee, soon had me thinking about the Marcel Pagnol character Jean de Florette and his back-breaking and ultimately fatal trials in  Provence [movie review here but note an error in the telling: Ugolin is not Papet's son but his nephew]: When conniving neighbors block up his spring and all his farming efforts fail, he rages against God. It was, after all, the livelihood of his family, he had struggled manfully to succeed, and then, to be deprived of his source (spring)! All right, I know, I know – his deprivation and mine are hardly equal, but it was not yet 5 a.m., and I’ve already admitted to crabbiness.

With heat back on and fresh, home-brewed coffee in mug in hand, my livelihood not facing any new or unusual threats during seasonal retirement (just for the winter: I’ll be back at work in late spring), I felt better when I took Sunny Juliet out on her leash in the dark and saw a perfect moon preparing to set in the west and heard, at the same time, a mockingbird singing in the dark, not even waiting for sunrise to begin rejoicing in the day. 


It was early. I was up. But not in a reading mood. Scanned through a few Facebook posts, listened to a little news on the radio. I was probably as impatient as Sunny on Saturday to get outdoors for our morning walk, so once the sun was up, we started out east on the range. East from the cabin means uphill, then down into what I call Peasy’s Gulch. Then we usually go north to the wash and follow it east. 

It’s a fine walk, one that can stretch to an hour easily, what with investigations along the way (mine mostly visual, SJ’s mostly with her nose). But I was in the mood for a change of scenery, and Sunny is always amenable to a change of plan, as long as we’re still having a good time.



See the arrow in the image above, pointing to a little tree on the distant slope? Doesn’t look very high, does it? Not much of a challenge? Actually, there is no simple and direct path, and while the tree is much higher than it looks from afar, I’d always had it in mind as a destination “someday.” This, I decided, would be the day. 


My morning preparations for the walk had been nothing more than the usual list: leash, treats, water, keys, phone, hat. That’s it. I added gloves, since it had been chilly when we started out, but camera stayed home, as did all field guides. No books on hikes! One thing I learned about field guides when I hiked the Dragoons years ago with a friend is that they become increasingly heavy with every step. I can’t live without field guides – don’t get me wrong – but I’ve learned to photograph whatever I want to identify and look it up in my guides afterwards. Sometimes I carry a camera, as on New Year’s Eve for the Town Hill climb; otherwise, my phone has to serve camera duty.


In Dos Cabezas, in the mountains, foothills, and the ghost town itself, everything (as my hiking partner noted one day as we were driving the straight, flat Kansas Settlement Road) is “up and down.” In summer, when monsoon rains come to the Southwest, water floods the washes and carries downstream rocks, trees, and anything (or anyone) else that it catches up in its torrential flow. On lower ground, the washes in winter are broad, sandy, and relatively clear of obstacles, as if designed for walking, whereas on higher ground and steep slopes, the story is vastly different. There a wash originates as a gully, and there will be several gullies to every slope. Moreover, there is loose rock everywhere, along with shrubs with thorns and spines. -- And I'm coming back to add that there are also gopher holes, holes made by rooting "pigs" (javelina), and now, another neighbor warns me, abandoned mine shafts!

My destination that small dark tree to the northwest

Dark shade is first gully, from the destination side.


Having gone farther east than necessary before making the decision to climb, I had two major gullies to clamber down into and up out of on my way to that tree. Sunny negotiated them easily, but then, she has four legs and four feet and is only a year old. The second gully, in particular, gave me pause. (No, not paws! Please!) Could I do it? Without falling? I put on the gloves I’d taken off when feeling too warm in order to be able to grab handy branches along the way. On the upside of the gully, there was a cow path (quite surprising how good cows are at climbing steep slopes), and I made cautious use of their bovine wisdom. 

For reference: cows on a different hillside on a different day

For scale: same cows as above without the magic of zoom

On Saturday: my cowpath, up out of the second gully

My report, in brief: The climb, la montée, ça en valait la peine! Definitely worth the effort! The view of my little ghost town down there in the distance – even, between two local hills, a view out across the playa to the Dragoon Mountains and Cochise Stronghold – was worth every cautious, foot-dragging step that got me there, and it was very satisfying to stand under a tree I’d been looking at from my winter back door and imagining meeting “in person” since 2015.

View attained.

Tree up close.

From my new, lofty vantage point, I could see an easier route to take down than the one I’d used coming up. I’ll remember that for the next time I climb to the tree. I have also installed an altimeter on my new phone now, so when I make the climb again I’ll know exactly how much higher the tree is than the cabin down below, which stands at a mere 5,030 feet above sea level. – Not quite a mile high, the cabin, but that almost explains our freezing temperatures during these winter nights. 


Yes, a very satisfying adventure – and I rationed the water supply carefully so that a certain energetic little doggie would not have to go thirsty, either. We had a terrific time!



Dawn said...

Very cool adventure. I was worried about the gullies. Did you have a plan if you got into a jam? On another note I ran across a B&B in Wilcox advertising itself as a dark sky location. I so want to come but Bruce is still doing treatments every 3 weeks.

P. J. Grath said...

I had my phone with me -- and good signal. Had a good idea while out there: pack along a lightweight reflective space blanket. If you need rescue, a big reflective surface would help spotters find you. Yes, great dark sky, a zillion stars. They will all still be here when Bruce is finished with treatments. xxxooo

Dawn said...

Good idea about the space blanket. Would also be handy if you were stuck outside overnight. Also if someone knows when to expect you back.

P. J. Grath said...

Not only if overnight but also if, God forbid, injured. I texted a neighbor from the tree, so someone knew where I was, and texted again when safely home.

Karen Casebeer said...

Great documentation of your adventure. Crabby no more! I once heard that the best camera is the one you have with you. Your iPhone camera took wonderful pictures too. I'm newly fascinated with the word "wash" as a dry stream bed. I hadn't heard of that usage before reading J.A. Jance and now you're using it too. I'm unfamiliar with the southwest, one place I've not traveled so I'm not surprised.

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, my new phone (and I liked my old one better) is android, not iPhone. It's a Motorola, and I liked the camera much, much better on my LG. Zoom is especially problematic on the Motorola. Those cows on the hillside, a photo not taken the day of my adventure, was with my camera.

Here is an introduction to a little Southwest terminology:
I call the steep, deep ones gullies, the broad, almost flat ones washes -- but I am not a native!

Mari Raphael said...

I enjoyed walking along with you and Sunny. The tree looks like a juniper, I looked up the uses. Juniper berries are used medicinally, and as an astringent type of food (😝) Ha!

Karen Casebeer said...

Sorry, I assumed you had an iPhone because I think you're an Apple computer person. Thanks, too, for the Southwest lingo link. Very helpful.

P. J. Grath said...

Mari, I agree with you -- juniper -- but don't know which juniper it is. I know it is not alligator juniper or the one-seed juniper. Can it be the Arizona juniper? Maybe, but I'll have to investigate further. And remind me sometime to tell you a funny story about juniper berries and Cochise County as David and I saw it early on.