Wednesday, May 31, 2017

#66 - Wednesday, 31 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Thunderstorms and dusty roads … and flies

As I headed northeast on Highway 80 toward the New Mexico state line I saw very few other vehicles. I kept looking southeast, watching the dark clouds and rains engulf the Animas Mountains. Looking out my driver’s side window I saw most of the Chiricahuas sunlit while the northern peaks looked like they were also receiving rain. It had been a long time since I had seen rain. I had about ten more miles to go before I’d reach New Mexico. While driving out of the Whitmire Canyon Wilderness, past the San Bernadino Wildlife Refuge and on to Douglas, Arizona, I had driven through some rain. However, it didn’t do much to cleanse my dusty truck. Dust and winds are constants here. I had been in the Peloncillo Mountains, again looking for tarantulas and scorpions. This rugged wilderness is mostly deserted. It is the domain of smugglers of both drugs and people and Border Patrol officers trying to discourage the latter. I had stopped for lunch at the type locality for one of my favorite scorpions, Diplocentrus peloncillensis. It’s unknown to all but arachnologists. It is found beneath rocks on the north-facing slope across from a historical marker memorializing the Mormon Battalion, the army’s only religious unit, which crossed the mountains in 1846. This road through the Peloncillos is called Geronimo Trail, and as I now headed northeast back through camp I approached another historical marker in Apache, Arizona where Geronimo surrendered to U.S. troops in 1886. I was focused on the lightning in the distance and the darkening clouds and rain over mountains both to the west and east. I saw an approaching vehicle driving on the two-lane highway’s shoulder and slowed as I wondered why. It began to stop and as I slowed some more I noticed the scene unfolding in my rear-view mirror. The entire highway behind me and the skies above were almost black. A dust storm had enveloped desert. Passage was impossible for the driver headed toward Douglas, but I forged ahead marveling at the ominous palette of mountain skies.

Yesterday began like most. I had no plan other than to get out into nature. Very often I roll out of Rusty’s RV Ranch’s gates with no destination. Unless I want to head north toward Lordsburg, NM, everything is to the right (south). Once I begin toward Rodeo I can head east on Highway 9 toward Animas or west into the Chiricahua Mountains or continue southwest on Highway 80. I hadn’t had much of a breakfast or packed lunch so I decided on the easterly option, planning to stop at Valley Mercantile in Animas for a breakfast sandwich, extra sports drinks and fixin’s for lunch on the trail. Then I just spontaneously decided to drive south out of town on Hwy 338 which becomes the Geronimo Trail. Next thing I knew I was all the way down to the Peloncillos and the Whitmire Canyon Wilderness. 

Texas Horned Lizard found on road on drive south
After hiking around at a few different spots and having lunch, I began to notice the threatening skies. From my lunch spot at the Mormon Batallion Historical Landmark I was 40 miles from Animas, New Mexico and 38 miles from Douglas, Arizona. The first was actually shorter as my campsite is 16 miles from Animas so I was 56 miles from home if I went in that direction. However, I knew that path well. I had yet to drive farther west in the Peloncillos all the way to where you exit the Coronado National Forest and parallel the Mexico border into Douglas, Arizona. With the possibility of rain I decided I’d rather do a scenic drive than hike and I’d like to see the rest of the road and then take advantage of being able to shop at the Wal-Mart in Douglas. From Douglas it is another 60 miles or so back to camp. The drive out "the other side" of the Whitmire Canyon Wilderness was beautiful and the terrain changed several times. With my truck in four-wheel-drive I scrambled along the rocky and winding, ascending and descending, rubble road. Eventually my southwesterly direction brought me into Arizona, but there was no posted state line. The road eventually headed mostly west and was often within walking distance of Mexico. I stopped to photograph a huge Red-tailed Hawk. 

Red-tailed Hawk along the Geronimo Trail at the confluence of Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico 

As I continued west, I saw many Border Patrol vehicles and even one with its flashing lights illuminated down a little side trail where it was detaining another truck. After spending the day in four-wheel-drive, getting my truck dustier and dustier as I left a big cloud everywhere I rolled, the road finally straightened to parallel the border for good and, after a dozen or so more miles, became paved. I entered Douglas thinking that maybe I'd best find a car wash, but it's only going to get dusty and dirty again tomorrow. Four-wheeling along the narrow rock and dirt roads of remote canyons is much of my fun. 

Eventually I ended up along Calle International, which literally runs right along the fence wall between countries. You see cars and pedestrians ten feet away from you, but isolated in another world. The road ran to the border crossing and then turned north. I stocked up on a few things at Wal-Mart and then drove northeast back to camp through intermittent drizzle until the dust storm where we began.

Calle International
In the days before this I have been mostly hiking in the Chiricahuas where one morning I visited the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station. I intend to return there tomorrow as the gift shop was closed and I want a detailed map of the trails of the Chiricahua Mountains. They have a bird feeding area with numerous hummingbird feeders and I sat for a couple of hours and watched Black-chinneds, Magnificent and the super rare Blue-throated Hummingbirds. I posted some images to Instagram. Tomorrow I will also finally visit the Chiricahua Desert Museum that is owned by the co-promoter of the reptile show I used to do in Tinley Park. Bob Ashley also owns Eco Books and Eco clothing lines. The Desert Museum sits right at the road that leads you from the main highway into the Chiricahuas, two miles north of Rodeo and four miles south of Rusty's. I drive by it every day, but have been trying to resist the temptation to pop in as I know I'll leave with several pricey books. Part of the Desert Museum complex is a conference center and on July 26-29 it is hosting the first Biology of Snakes Conference. I registered yesterday. So, after a July 21 String Cheese Incident show at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver, I'll return to Rusty's for another month beginning July 23 (RV will be stored here for a month) and be only four miles from the conference. It may seem crazy to stay on in the hot, dusty, windy desert through July and August, but that is monsoon season. Rains will fall and wildlife will be on the move.

Magnificent Hummingbird male, Southwestern Research Station, Chiricahua Mountains
Originally I had hoped that my mate Mark would be joining me in the desert for my August 5 birthday, but that isn't in the cards. Therefore, I decided I'd really like to attend the snake conference and that then I may as well spend my birthday here instead of moving about. I love the Chiris and this park is very inexpensive if you book a month and extremely peaceful and relaxed. It is also very dry and dusty and remote. And full of flies.

For images from my adventures go here. I continue to work on a new website that will integrate everything in one place.

     —   All the best, M

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