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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Camp Madera Canyon

A´ la Paul Simon, "there must be 50 ways to" climb a mountain. But summits are singular, thus memorable—a lofty opportunity to un-shoulder a pack and fathom a new external perspective, not to mention the one that lies within.
Much to Mom's dismay, this Arizona raised desert-rat-turned-mountain-man has been climbing piles of rock since before he can remember. Growing up in a desert treed with saguaros, a kid makes do with materials at hand. I'm told it all started in my "terrible twos," when I successfully scaled the wall of my playpen "prison." Ah, sweet freedom. Once you get a taste of it you never look back—or should I say, "down." Up is where it's at when your are surrounded by a family of giants. 

What smile of fortune, to have found Bobbie, a partner in "climb," a similar someone who loves and appreciates the summit experience—the planning, preparation, challenge, triumph, and final satisfaction—everything, right down to post-hike scabs, blisters, and soreness. These are memories to relive when the only things left to climb are the walls of nursing homes.

Arizona doesn't have 14'ers, but all things are relative; at nearly 10,000 feet, Mount Wrightson is no less a sentinel; it soars over southern Arizona like an eagle. Though the ocean has long since receded, gazing out from the summit I almost imagine the vast sonoran desert and rolling grasslands as a sea of waves lapping at her foothills. 

Contours and canyons come and go in swells as far as the eye can see. 80 miles west, 7,730 foot Baboquivari demarcates the Tohono O'odham Indian Nation. As "wasteland" Reservations go, this one's not as bad as some in terms of vegetation and relief. But, as they say in Colorado, "You can't eat the View."

Looking north from Wrightson's shoulder to the Santa Catalina's, I imagine topography as an angry sea. 
To the north, across the sprawling urban pancake of Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains appears like a sleeping dragon… a cap of snow gracing 9,200 foot Mount Lemmon. It must be nice to live in a place where one can suit up and Ski a few runs in the morning, then don golf attire and play a round in the afternoon. Compelling, eh? till  summer's blistering heat drives you indoors for three months. 

Looking east. Sleeping Dragons come alive when forest fires ignite, and the scars last a lifetime… ours, not the mountain. This photo did nothing for me in color, but in Black and White, it's a keeper.
To the distant east, unthreatening ripples of the lesser Dragoon Mountains. Historic Tombstone's out there somewhere in a lee between waves. Infamous for it's wild west gunfights and outlaws, Tombstone is now a circus, with carny barkers trying to separate ice cream licking tourists from their money. When I was a wee lad, the big "shootout" took place in the streets and was free. Now it costs 7 bucks and takes place behind a ticket-booth. I took not a single photo wandering Tombstone… just couldn't find anything of value.  

Looking South, from near the summit of Wrightson… over Patagonia, Nogales, and far into Meh-hee-co.
To the south lie the Huachuca Mountains and borderlands abutting Mexico. I spent third grade living on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch halfway between Sierra Vista and Bisbee and less than three miles from the border, which, in those days, was a four-strand barbed wire fence. "Home" was an old ramshackle 8 by 40 trailer, parked next to a ranch house and a windmill that was our sole supplier of water. I remember falling asleep to the rhythmic creak of that windmill, spinning away in the incessant, grassland breeze.

Monday through Friday I'd walk the long dirt/mud lane from the ranch house out to the paved highway and catch a ride on a very short, mostly empty school bus to Palominas, a crossroads excuse for a store and two-room schoolhouse. First through forth grades in one room, fifth through eighth in the other; two teachers. The bus driver was pretty, a young lady who often wore a western skirt and blouse. She had a kind smile and called me by name. 

A little over a decade ago, on an Artful RV Adventure that took us to Bisbee, we stopped at the old two room schoolhouse. It had been converted into an administrative building for a newer, larger school. Curious, I walked inside to have a look around. A lady with glasses perched on the end of her nose sat at a desk covered with folders and paperwork. I explained to her that I attended third grade here, in this very building, and asked if anyone was still around from 1957-58 era. She smiled and told me to go to the house next door, that the school bus driver still lived there. 

I walked over to a rather rundown house, the yard little more than a patch of dirt and fenced in chain link. The gate had a sign, "Beware Of Dog." Not seeing any dogs I opened the gate. "SQUEEEAK." This prompted a chorus of baritone barks from Pit Bulls and Dobermans inside the house. God, it sounded like they were killing each other to get at me. I knocked, timidly, and took a few steps back toward the gate… just in case.

An argument ensued inside the house on my behalf, but the dogs weren't buying it. This was a bad idea. Finally, the front door opened… just enough for a slender, silver-haired lady to squeeze through and close behind her. 

Over the Guard Dog's uproar, I tried to quickly explained that I went to school next door in late 50's, and was told that the bus driver still lived here, in this house. "That's me," she exclaimed. I told her that I had lived at the Miracle Valley Ranch. 
"Oh I remember you. Mark, you were my last stop." 
"Yes, that's me."
She went on to explain that she always wondered about some of the kids that moved away… where they went and what became of them, and that I was one that she remembered and thought about. 
Very weird, in so many ways. I was glad I stopped, and so was she.  

Climbing Wrightson again and again proves more difficult each time. Either we are getting older or the trail longer and steeper. The usual hike is nearly 12 miles. Due to roadwork, we had to park a mile from the trailhead and lower down. All said and hiked, 5,000 feet of elevation gain/loss, and 14 miles… the last three with a blistered little toe from too much downhill. Those things take forever to heal.


  1. You and Bobbie continue to amaze us.

  2. Mark, your photos are always wonderful but these are exceptional. The cloud cover really adds drama to the shots. That was an incredible climb! Great job!! How very cool to meet your bus driver and have her remember you:) I am sure you made her day! Glad to see a photo of you:)

  3. Now that we are back in Canada with unrestricted internet & no Gigabyte worries I can catch up again on a few blogs I have been missing. I agree with John & Pam, you have some exceptional photos there. Isn't it always a joy to have those oh so perfect & slightly diffused wonderful lighting days occur.

  4. Mt Wrightson bested us when we last tried to summit her...too much snow. Thanks for taking me to the top with your lovely views and story.

  5. Riddle me this Mark. You were in the third grade during 1957-58 and I was in the 10th grade. But, I thought we were the same age. If I have all the dates right you are going to be signing up for Medicare and I'm an 'ol fart.

    I went to a two room school house in Double Adobe, AZ when I was in the sixth grade. That school was grades 1-3 in one room and 4-6 in the other.

    1. Ed… now that I think about it, I believe it was 2nd grade at Palominos. 3rd grade teacher was Mrs Oaks for a couple of months at a new bible school built @ Miracle Valley Ranch (why my parents were there… chasing God's Will) and then home schooled on the road for the remainder of third grade, as mom and dad continued looking for God's Will. We traveled in a 16 foot Shasta travel trailer… Dad fishing, me doing homework :)
      Medicare comes Oct. 30th.

    2. Wow, Ed… I just looked at a map, Double Adobe is way out in the sticks! But not all that far from where I was in Miracle Valley. We just went through Elfrida a couple of weeks ago… spent the night at Whitewater Draw Bird Sanctuary.

    3. My grandmother, on my mother side, homesteaded a place that is about a mile from Whitewater Draw Bird Sanctuary. It did not exist then nor where I lived about 2 miles from it while in the 2 to 5.5 grades. I have cousins that live on that homestead land now.

  6. I wish we had a third grade visual to go along with that story. ;-) Cute pic of Bobbie, BTW...

  7. Amazing shots! Wonderful views. We left Tucson April 11 so barely missed the chance to meet you. The hiking club did several hikes in the canyon this year. Always a pretty place.

  8. Your comments regarding the school bus driver reminded me of my Cub Scout den mother...Mrs. Brown. She kept track of all of us and sent birthday cards filling us in on what each of us were doing and how we turned out. She did that without fail for 30 years until she past away.


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