Hear the Music

Roasted Yucca

Here we are climbing Peters Trail to the eponymous mesa and facing East to Music Mountain. Scattered in the brush are desiccated and live Prickly Pear cactus. Poles of young saguaro cactus like randomly placed telephone poles poke up around the lower slopes.

The first published record of Music Mountain is by Ray C. Howland of Mesa Arizona who sent a letter to “Everybody’s Magazine” that appeared in a feature called “Everybody’s Meeting Place: Where writers, readers and the editor gather for informal discussion,” May 1928, Volume 58, Issue 5, page 173. I reproduce Howland’s letter here with minor editing:

“I am in the deserts and mountains of Arizona most of the time. I go into town once each month for mail and provisions. I meet many things as I ramble around, many strange things, things that are beyond my ability to comprehend. One particular was in my mind as I read your printed thought in the back of Everybody’s. Far in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, in the deepest, most rugged canyon, there are three caves halfway up a great yellow bluff. In these caves are mud dwellings. There are not the cliff-dwelling as found in other parts of Arizona.

The mud walls of these dwellings were made by people with very small hands. The handprints of these ancient masons remain as though they were made yesterday. Just below these caves a beautiful pool of crystal-clear water lies between grassy banks. Tall ghostlike sycamores grow there in great numbers.
I have camped many times beneath those sycamores. It is a beautiful spot. Such a difference between there and the hot desert that lies fifteen miles to the south.! As one lies there, just at twilight, begins the most wonderful music one could imagine. I have never heard music that could compare to it, vague, elusive at times, then again of greater volume. It is my opinion that no living being could record it.

The music is, I believe, beyond description. It seems to take you out of your moral self and transport you back ages and ages, almost to the beginning of things. For the time being one feels as though he were in another world.
I have often tried to solve this little private mystery. I can’t explain it. I can’t even describe it intelligently.

You will probably say as you read this that is is the wind among the pinnacles, caves, trees, etc. that make this wonder phenomenon. It cannot be, for usually there is no breeze in the mountains at twilight. It is still as a tomb except for that music. Besides when the breeze is blowing at any other hours of the day there is no sound.”

Here is a copy of that issue for you to see for yourselves.

In my photographs the bluffs described by Howland are seen clearly in the distance. During our expedition we were never able to visit the caves, though Dave described the location, caves, and dwellings. On Peter’s Mesa are remains of pits where Apaches and Yavapais gathered hearts of agave to roast. We visited a small cave in the side of Peter’s Mesa showing signs of high heat and possibly used for roasting agave.

Click Me for the first post of this series, “Black Mountain.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Survival

live on a Sky Island

Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments. The term originally referred to those found near the southern borders of the U.S. states of Arizona and New Mexico with the northern borders of the Mexican States of Chihuahua and Sonora such as the Dragoon Mountains featured in this post. The isolation has significant implications for these natural habitats. The American Southwest region began warming up between ∼20,000–10,000 years before the present-day and atmospheric temperatures increased substantially, resulting in the formation of vast deserts that isolated the sky islands.

This sycamore tree survives life in this ephemeral stream of an Arizona “Sky Island” by allowing entire trunks to die off during extended dry spells. The tree is an Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii).

Informative sign at campsite

Reference: wikipedia article “Sky Islands.”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Cochise Spring

ancestral Apache land

Interstate 10 between Benson and Wilcox ascends through a field of enormous, eroded granite boulders. Off to the west are the Dragoon Mountains, otherwise known as “Cochise Stronghold.”

Informative sign at campsite

Starting from the campsite is the “Sky Islands Traverse” hiking trail, leading up into the mountains. I wandered from the trail to follow a dry streambed to this residual pool of water, the time being early spring, and this is what remained from the winter rains.

A single butterfly of the genus Anthocharis generally called “Orangetip” for the colorful upper wing tips. These exist throughout the world, here in Arizona they migrate across the desert, obtaining refuge and nourishment from “Sky Islands” such as the Dragoon Mountains

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Cochise Dawn

ancestral Apache land

From 2004 through 2011 I visited Arizona every Autumn, October or November. As a University of Arizona Alumni Board member for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences we had a meeting during “homecoming” and a fund raising event. I’d come early or stay later for getting acquainted with Arizona, more than was possible as an undergraduate. In 2007 I camped for several days Chiricahua National Monument of the remote south eastern corner of the state.

The park empties out this time of year, for some reason. The weather is perfection with clear skies, moderate daytime temperatures, cool nights. This time of year the Arizona White Oak acorns ripen and fall. The campground has aluminum picnic tables, the falling acorns made a loud plunks throughout the night. This would annoy some people. Me, it is a great memory.

The following two images are great memories from my first morning.

Click any photograph for my Online gallery.
Rhyolite Moon
These formations hovered over the trail on my first morning. The rising full moon was an unplanned bonus.

I experimented this trip with a breakfast of granola with dried whole milk. It was delicious (for me) and got me out on the trail quickly. This first morning I clicked my hiking poles together to scare away bears as I walked in the pre-dawn dark. The preparation and extra effort paid off with this photograph.

Click any photograph for my Online gallery.

I met one hiker who was a harbor pilot from Hamburg, Germany. He came just to view a particular rock formation that was, literally, the rubber bath duck. It is several miles to the site, a moderate hike with significant elevation gain. He took his snapshot with a little camera and was on his way.

The following is my masterpiece from the trip. Imaging the effect of seeing this image on settlers. That same first day I turned a corner and there this was…it took a few minutes to comprehend what I saw, it was so incredible and, for me, unexpected. It first, the only perception is a huge rock dome of rough rock, then, slowly, the image of a native American profile forms in the mind.
Cochise Dawn

Click any photograph for my Online gallery.
Cochise Dawn
Cochise Dawn

Click link for the complete story behind how I captured this image, from my Online Gallery.

Michael Wills Inspiration Point
Michael Wills Inspiration Point

During the session for Cochise Dawn I turned the camera for the view northwest and did a self portrait. In the distance are the Galiuro Mountains and Wilderness. Tucked alongside is the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, hosting one of the few perennial streams of Arizona.

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

History and Ghosts of the Triangle T Ranch

a ghost story

In my last post, Homecoming Parade 2003, I described my initial reconnection with the University of Arizona (U of A) as a 1975 graduate and alumnus.  This personal project of involvement with U of A and Arizona continued through 2011 with annual autumn trips to coincide with Homecoming.  The travel was as a CALS (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) Alumni Board of Directors member, a primary responsibility was raising funds for scholarships.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-5
The Amerind Foundation and weathered boulders of Texas Canyon granite.  Beyond are the Dragoon Mountains

I met, Linda Kelly, the owner of the Triangle T Guest Ranch, while camping in the Chiricahua Mountains.  I arrived a week before homecoming to photograph the landscape, nature and rock formations of the Chiricahua National Monument.  Click this link for my Arizona Online gallery, including some work from that time.  Linda and a friend were visiting that day and we struck up a conversation about the area and her Triangle T Guest ranch.  The next day I was scheduled to guest lecture a class at the U of A, as an alumnus of CALS.  The ranch was on the way and I needed a place to stay, so Linda gave me directions and I checked in.

She gave me a tour of the incredible weather granite rock formations of Texas Canyon and, meanwhile, shared stories of the history of Texas Canyon.  It is appropriate for the Amerind Foundation to be here (see first photograph), the winter camp of an Apache tribe for generations.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-1
Weathered granite boulders greet visitors to the Triangle T Ranch.

That night, my request was for a room storied to be haunted by a spirit they call “Grandma,” as in when her foot steps wake you from a sound sleep you say, “It’s all right, Grandmother.”  She woke me that night, footsteps in the dark, hollow on the wood floor, the room filled with a hard cold.  I talked to her, without a response, while swinging my legs out of bed to reach the gas heater in the wall.  I turned on the heat and the sound of expanding metal heat fins lulled me to sleep.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-2
I call this pair, “Father and Son.”  The restaurant is built around a round boulder. 

It made a good story for the students.  They were surprised I could fall back asleep, but after all I had to be there the following morning.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-3
Your imagination roams among the natural forms.

I gave Linda a few of my photographs from that day and we made arrangements for the Triangle T to supply a two night package for the CALS “Dean’s Almost World Famous Burrito Breakfast” silent auction during 2008 homecoming.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-4
A tableau of figures keep silent watch with the ghosts of Texas Canyon.
Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Marvelous Rocks

a ghost story

Texas CanyonGranite2007-5

Texas CanyonGranite2007-1

Weathered granite boulders greet visitors to the Triangle T Ranch.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-2

Texas CanyonGranite2007-3

Your imagination roams among the natural forms.

Texas CanyonGranite2007-4

A tableau of figures keep silent watch with the ghosts of Texas Canyon.
Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills