Monday February 10, 2014
For being out in the desert an hour and a half or more from the nearest big city there sure seems to be a lot to do around here. Today Joan and I decided to take a hike out to Alamo Canyon, after hearing from several of our fellow RVers about how beautiful it is.
Alamo Canyon is ~15 miles south of Ajo down AZ highway 85 towards the Mexican border at Lukeville.
Alamo Canyon is on the Organ Pipe National Monument.
Organ Pipe NM is a 330,688 acre reserve along the south western border of Arizona and Mexico, created in 1937 by President F.D. Rossevelt after the land was donated to the US goverment by the Arizona legislature.
There is no well marked junction with signs indicating Alamo Canyon. You have to watch for Alamo Wash and turn on the road just north of where the wash crosses under highway 85. The gravel entrance road is well graded and takes you into a primitive campground.
Along side the road about a mile in, is this familiar structure. We first reported on one of these when Joan and I drove out to Charlie Bell Gap, 18 miles west of Ajo on Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. It is an aid station with an emergency call button that will summon help for those in need. The beacons are established and maintained by the US Customs and Border Patrol to address the rising numbers of exposure related deaths among migrants crossing illegally into the US.
The road ends at a this campground (no facilities except a pit toilet and recyling bins). This is a fee area, but thanks to Jeff's Senior Pass (formerly the Golden Age Pass) we get in free!
The trail into the canyon is only about a mile long, and is fairly flat and easy hiking.
We spoke of the wildflower blooms in our last blog, and we saw even more of that today. The Sonoran desert differs substantially from the other three western deserts in that the Sonoran gets rain in the summer and the winter months, rather than just the winter as is the case for the Mojave, the Chihuahuan, and the Great Basin deserts. That makes this a very lush desert by comparison.
There were many bunches of these Plains Blackfoot Daisys
And Desert Penstemon
Jeff stands in the door way of the former Gray Family Ranch line shack.
Even the Creosote brush was blooming with showy yellow blossoms.
The trail wound up to the remains of a brick house. Placed in the narrowest part of the canyon it stood as a protectorate of the wide basin beyond that was at one time used to corral cattle. The home was small in size, but very sturdy, made of 6"x 4"x 18" adobe brick, on a poured concrete slab floor. Put on a new roof, a couple doors and windows, and you could live in it again. There were other slabs in the same area but no indication of the types of buildings that once stood there.
The wash was only about 100 feet from the cabin, and even now still has pockets of seeping water in the gravelly bottom. (no rain here since early December)
Jeff checks out one of many "grind holes" in the rock next to the Alamo Wash.
We found several areas in the larger rock where early inhabitants may have used a "mano" to grind nuts, seeds, or grains in a natural hole or "metate". (aka mortar and pestle)
We took many photos of the surrounding canyon walls, but they lose perspective when flattened out on the computer screen.
In real life these imposing canyon walls were very impressive- very close and rising hundreds of feet over head!
Joan and I found a nice shady place to stop and have a picnic lunch
Further up the canyon the gate to the corral stands open, allowing entry into the stock pens, which look very much like an inviting meadow
In one corner of the corral is a large concrete and stone watering trough.
The walls in this picture are the sides of a huge water tank. The tank had a roof over it at one time and the wind pump that kept it full was located on a concrete foundation in the bottom of the adjacent wash.A very large storm in 2009 dumped 15" of rain in this canyon and the raging torrent of water in the wash destroyed what was left of the wind pump. The 2009 storms created enough water to carry large boulders 2 miles down the wash and burried highway 85, closing it for weeks.
After lunch and several exploratory hikes in the vicinity we returned back down the canyon to the little ranch house and said our goodbyes to this beautiful place.
The hike back to the campground gave us time to consider what an ambitious undertaking this would have been for a ranching family in the early1900s. The Grays moved here in 1913 and ranched with their 7 children, four daughters and three sons. The main ranch house was at Dos Lomitas near the Mexican border. As the children got older, they helped establish as many as 15 line camps like this one in Alamo Canyon. Grazing cattle in the desert was tough, it was estimated that each cow needed a square mile of land to feed it, and the Gray family grazed over a 1000 head in their best years. Many of the roads and tracks seen in the desert today are remnants of early truck roads and cattle trails, wandering from one water hole, or well to another. The last of the grazing permits expired in 1972, and when Organ Pipe was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, the cattle had been gone for 4 years.
What a beautiful setting!
Your Traveling Friends
Jeff and Joan