Quick little post, the Sioux tribes of North Dakota have been fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the company just demolished a bunch of recently-discovered historic & religious sites within hours of them being revealed in court as part of the attempt to stop the construction. Here’s an angry letter to sign if you’re a professional/student in anthropology, history, or some related field.
V-Bar-V gets its name from the ranch that used to occupy the land. Having been private land for so long, the petroglyphs here are remarkably well preserved. The site is believed to be a solar calendar – the sun falls on certain drawings at certain times of the year, telling the people who made them when to plant & harvest crops, or when to expect rain.
The park is split into two sections, one on each side of the city. Both are fairly easily accessible from I-10, although they’re not right near the interstate. The Rincon Mountain District on the eastern side is so beautiful & pristine that I kept forgetting I wasn’t in a botanical garden. It has an 8-mile loop that’s drivable and plenty of trails for those who want to explore on foot. I enjoyed the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail that leaves from the Javelina Picnic Area. It goes way up into the mountains, although I didn’t take it all that far. At one point I came across a box where they wanted me to register my presence there, so I filled out my name and then realized they wanted to know what time I left and what time I came back. I was so afraid that I’d forget to write down when I came back by and they’d be all in a tizzy thinking I went up in there and died or something that I filled in a time I thought I might come back and rendered the whole thing moot.
The Tuscon Mountain District on the western side borders county-run Tuscon Mountain Park. The landscape here is totally different, with more rolling mountains and interesting rock formations. There are miles of trails and roads, however a large stretch of Golden Gate Road is not well maintained and requires a high clearance vehicle. A 1/4 mile trail at the signal hill picnic area leads up to series of ancient Hohokam petroglyphs on the rocks. I always think ancient artwork is so interesting, even if nobody has any idea what it means. It looked to me to be mostly authentic, although there were a couple bits that I thought had been carved more recently by vandals. I’ll never understand why people feel the need to do that. “Bob loves Jill 2002!” Guess what? Nobody cares.
Of course its namesake saguaro cacti are all over both halves of the park, along with tons of other cool looking plants. I have to wonder how anybody ever made it through these places before there were roads given that everything seems to have giant murderous thorns.
Highways 82 & 83 run through the desert from Vail to Nogales, passing many ranches and a couple of small towns along the way. Just don’t make a wrong turn at the end & accidentally end up in Mexico. There are a lot of dirt side roads leading off to various things, including probably some ghost towns, but be careful: signs at the turn offs warn of drug smuggling. Tuscon is just back up I-19, including a trip through a border patrol checkpoint complete with drug dogs so don’t have anything illegal in the car. The vast majority of the road signs all the way back to Tuscon express distances in kilometers, so it’s a little harder to keep track of locations.
On the way back to Tuscon I-19 passes right by the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, a decommissioned Cold War era nuclear missile silo that still houses its Titan II rocket. They offer 1-hour tours ($9.50) through the command center, including discussions of the crew’s daily life, a simulated launch, and a look at the rocket itself. Other types of tours are also available a few times a month, check their website for details. I went on the basic tour and found it very interesting. Our guide, Ed, was very knowledgeable. He showed us the technology involved in running the place, the various security procedures and steps involved in crew changes, and walked us through the launch sequence. Given that the base operated from 1963 to 1982 their tech seems downright ancient now, and I’m always fascinated by the way complex things operated in a time before computers ran it all. Punch tape targeting systems, thumb wheel code entry, no electronic screens anywhere, it’s completely nuts. The other weird thing is that the whole place is set on shock absorbers. Everywhere you look there’s huge springs on the walls and along the walkways. Ed said one time they got a bunch of people to push on one wall of the command center and they actually got the room to move.
The area around the Superstitions is rife with ruins, ghost towns, abandoned mines, yipping coyotes, and legendary figures. Classic movies were filmed, canvas tent mining camps rose and fell, American Indians built and abandoned cliff side settlements, and stage coach stops still operate. The history of this place is immense; in four days I feel like I only scratched the surface.
There are many stories about how they got their name; most seem to revolve around the local American Indian tribes, who claimed that many strange things happened up beyond those stone faces. My favorite theory is that the wind blowing through the wild crags makes wailing sounds that put people in mind of spirits and monsters. Supposedly there’s an unbelievable vein of gold running through the Superstitions. Jacob Waltz claimed to have found it, but on his deathbed 115 years ago could only give a series of cryptic clues as to its location. People have been trying to rediscover the Lost Dutchman Mine and its treasures ever since. Of course there’s no way to know how true the stories are, but it’s a part of the Southwestern lore nonetheless.
Located just about 45 minutes east of Phoenix, the cliffs on the southwestern edge of the range rise suddenly out of the desert floor, jumping up hundreds of feet into spires and canyons that could inspire a million stories. Lost Dutchman State Park, just outside the suburb of Apache Junction, isn’t much on its own but makes a great jumping off point. The campground and picnic areas are very nice and many trails lead directly into the mountains.
I hiked a little over a mile up Siphon Draw Trail into its namesake canyon that cuts into the center of the range, which offered great opportunities to shoot some mid-day infrared photos. Much as I would’ve preferred to hike in the cooler morning or evening hours, IR demands bright sunlight. The trail went a lot farther and connected to other ones criss-crossing the wilderness area but my goal was to get up into the canyon and once I did that I was content to go back. Besides, by then I was hungry.
Highway 88, the historic Apache Trail, loops up along the reservoirs of the Salt River to Roosevelt, where it meets 188 and then 60, which comes back around to Apache Junction. On the way it passes many towns and historic sites as it weaves through the mountains. Altogether it covers about 125 miles and makes for a very nice day excursion through the desert. Between Tortilla Flat and Roosevelt (about 22 miles), Highway 88 is dirt, but it’s well maintained. Aside from some washboarding it was fine, with very few ruts or rocks. Only the very lowest vehicles would have a problem with it.
The Superstition Mountain Museum consists of an indoor exhibit hall ($5) as well as several buildings outside, including the barn and chapel from the Apacheland movie set. The rest of the set burned down years ago, but those were saved and eventually moved to the grounds of the museum. Elvis Presley himself once sang gospel songs in the chapel during breaks in the filming of Charro!, the only movie of his in which he did not sing.
Goldfield Ghost Town straddles the border between historic and downright silly. Rebuilt with antique lumber after the original town burned down, it now consists of gift shops, ice cream parlors, and semi-authentic tours. The historical society museum ($1) does a good job of presenting the area and people who made it what it was. The train and mine tours ($8 each) were interesting although not especially long or realistic and they gave some conflicting information. There was also a bordello tour ($3) that made a point of letting potential customers know it was “child friendly”.
Tortilla Flats is a one-time stage coach stop that’s still in operation as a restaurant and gift shop out in the middle of nowhere. Highway 88 meets 188 at the Roosevelt Dam, the largest masonry dam in the world, made of blocks carved right out of the canyon, although the newer concrete facing covers the original stonework.
Tonto National Monument ($3), overlooking Roosevelt Lake, is a small cliff-side settlement long abandoned by its original builders for reasons unknown to us today. The lower ruins are readily accessible, although a visit requires a 1/3 of a mile hike up a steep trail. The upper ruins can only be visited on occasional ranger-led tours (reservations required), visit the park service website for dates and information. Unlike other ruins I’ve been to, most of the rooms at Tonto are actually open for visitors to walk through. They’re so well protected that textures and fingerprints are still visible in the walls. They also contain surprisingly little graffiti, although unfortunately a few people have managed to get away with it over the years.
Fall asleep listening to coyotes howling, and try not have Stevie Wonder singing Superstition in your head the whole time.
Destination: Jerome, Arizona
There aren’t very many towns that do a decent job of straddling the line between touristy & genuine, but Jerome, Arizona is one of them with lots of hippie artists & plenty of unique shops displaying their wares. They call themselves the biggest ghost town in the country; I’d call it the most heavily populated ghost town in the country, but whatever.
Not far away down the mountain in Camp Verde in Montezuma Castle, a set of Sinagua ruins built into a natural opening in the side of a cliff overlooking Beaver Creek. Unfortunately the ruins themselves are closed off to visitors and can only be viewed from below, but it’s a beautiful walk along the cliff base with some nice interpretive panels discussing the history of the area & the people who lived there.