November is a special time for the ranges and basins of southern Arizona deserts. Climb a bajada of foothills, face west and wait for the sunset. That is what I did this day, November 3, 2005. East of Tucson the Saguaro National Monument at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness is where I parked, unpacked the photo gear and climbed the side of the Tanque Verde Ridge for a favorable view. Weather was pushing high level moisture from the west, clouds were developing.
You see here a shot from that session. In the distance, looking across Tanque Verde, are the Santa Catalina mountains. Months since the last rainfall, the giant Saguaros are using internal moisture reserves drawn up from a shallow root system, the flesh is less plump, the supporting structure of the ribs, always evident, are more pronounced. The last light catches these ribs in relief against a dramatic sky.
View North / Northwest from Peter’s Mesa. At our feet is a mature Saguaro Cactus towering over Charlebois Canyon, to the right Black Mountain. Bluff Spring Mountain, middle distance, then Black Top Mesa. Flatiron Peak, of the famed Superstition Mountain, is in distance. Photographed from Peter’s Trail on a March afternoon 2008. Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
Bluff Spring Mountain, middle distance, then Black Top Mesa. Flatiron Peak, of the famed Superstition Mountain, is in distance. Photographed from Peter’s Trail on a March afternoon 2008. Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona
The eye of Miner’s Needle is clear in both these South / Southeast views from Peter’s Mesa looking across the Music Canyon.
Many wildflowers, sprinkled like stars through the foreground of the morning photograph with Prickly Pear, Cholla and Saguaro cactus. Beware of “Jumping Cholla”, named for its seeming ability to attack passers-by. Another name, “Hanging Chain Cholla”, is more appropriate. Each chain with many hooked barbs is lightly attached to the branch, ready to snag a ride from unwary hikers.
Light rakes across the landscape in the evening photograph, taken from another vantage point on Peter’s Mesa. Miner’s Needle is four (4) miles away “as the crow flies,” i.e., line of sight distance.
View North / Northwest from Peter’s Trail looking back the way we came. Black Mountain on right, Bluff Spring Mountain left with LaBarge Canyon running to the Red Hills center. On a March afternoon 2008.
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.
Dutchman Trail follows the outflow of two springs along the canyon floor: Music Canyon and LaBarge springs. Here we are climbing Peters Trail to the eponymous mesa and facing south / Southeast, looking down on Dutchman Trail.
This is rough country below Bluff Spring Mountain. Stag Horn Cholla cactus is lower right with Prickly Pear cactus scattered in the brush. Poles of young saguaro cactus are scattered around the lower slopes.
After a respite among the cool spring waters, we headed up Peters Trail for the top of Peter’s mesa where, for all we knew, there was no water.
In this photograph I face northwest, looking down on Dutchman Trail. The peak, upper center left, is Black Mountain. The cleft of Charlebois Canyon is lower middle right. Stag Horn Cholla cactus is lower right with Prickly Pear cactus scattered in the brush. Poles of young saguaro cactus are scattered around the lower slopes. Look carefully and you can make out the pooled water of our rest stop.
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
Here is a recap of the last few Superstition Wilderness posts. The expedition route, in red, starts on the right where Dutchman and Terrapin trails meet. The total distance is 2.6 miles. Photograph timestamps tell me about 2 hours passed — 1.3 miles per hour in this rough country.
The expedition party rested where Dutchman Trail intersected the creek, full of flow from Charlebois Canyon, Music Canyon and LaBarge springs. We filled the water reservoirs in preparation for the climb up to the night’s camping spot on Peter’s Mesa, a 1,300 foot climb over 1.2 miles.
Behind Colorado and “Ed’s Horse” (don’t recall the name) is Bluff Spring Mountain.
A view to west on Dutchman Trail between Bluff Spring Mountain and Peter’s Mesa. The creek flowing from Charlebois, Music Mountain and LaBarge springs nourishes this Fremont’s Cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and other riparian flora. The tree is flanked by volcanic rock from an ancient eruption.
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