Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mine Canyon in the Whetstone Mountains

Today's hike was more of a short foothills ramble. We managed three, perhaps four miles in the heat of the day. Temperatures were in the mid 70s but it felt hotter than that; perhaps because of reflected heat off the sand and boulders.

By noon I needed a break from the computer screen and my Spanish and took all three dogs on a drive to the dry Whetstone mountains 20 miles north of us. This is a notorious dry range of scrub brush mountains and cattle and plenty of abandoned, open mines. I hadn't been here in five years.

I drove toward Huachuca City, turned west on Highway 82 and then took the Sands Ranch Road north of this town. It's a paved road for only a short distance. This road straddles the foothills, small sun-burned homes and a few isolated nicer homes and enters the appropriately-named Mine Canyon from the southsoutheast. Horses, ATVers, targetshooters and hunters come to this range. A broken FS sign welcomes visitors to "Canyon" with the remaining sign mysteriously absent. Not much is written about this small SkyIsland range, perhaps because few official trails exist and the mountains are reserved for mining claims and other resources.

Eight miles from my highway turn-off I parked off the road and continued my walk, opting to go an hour out and back. We didn't quite go that far as the dogs quickly got hot and tired and drank more water than what I had rationed with. After the first water break 25 miunutes into the uphill hike, the dogs had drank one-third of the gallon water. Another twenty minutes later it was another one-third gone. Sara's tongue looked dark red and she panted heavily, and Sammy didn't look too much better. Their frequent stops under the scarce mesquite and oak trees was another warning that they weren't feeling too good.

One thing that stood out today though: there was no illegal trash anywhere. I spotted a few brass ammunition shells and isolated plastic bottles, but nothing like in years past where entire families would abandon backpacks under dry mesquite trees.

This is pretty country but when it's dry this place quickly turns deadly. The oak trees are looking sick from the lack of water, and they suffered additional damage from the early February deep freeze. Lots of brown leaves on the oaks around here, that only translates into fire kindling. The grasses are all dead. The mesquites aren't in bloom yet. If this drought continues this is going to be one dangerous fire season. There was very little green besides creosote.

I wandered up the main mine road that soon lost itself on a high ridge. I had been here before with Kevin, back in early 2005, and haven't been back. I remember this to be steep, dry, spotted with abandoned mines and mining claims, and isolated. Erosion from past monsoons have wiped out parts of the side trails and let other paths overgrow. This is an area better explored in the colder months. I went down two shorter trails which both ended in dead ends. The white sedan that had fallen into the steep ravine was not visible this time. Is it even there? The story of how that car got where it landed has got to be a horror story.
The Forest Service installed a new gate at its land boundary and only one stray calf was spotted off the road. Two ATVers came up the road as I left the national forest at 3pm. They were the only other sign of human life.

I need to come back to this region when there is more water around, on a colder day earlier in the morning. I chose the heat of the day to come out here and it was surely not enjoyable to the two older dogs. I waited so long to get going because of garden work in the backyard.

There are many unexplored, faint trails in these mountains, and legend has it there is still gold in them thar hills. This is also one of the few places where casual hikers have found meteoritic rock samples and fossils, fossils that once were both marine and land animals. Fault lines also are evident here, even to a casual looker like myself, and using Google Earth one can see where several ancient lakes once were.
Perhaps the hidden treasures underneath the rock are meant to remain secret? At any rate, this is a pleasant area for a foothills hike with a group, as many of these trails meander and form loops. I'll leave any mysteries I have about this place for another time to be solved.
According to a 1982 report conducted by the Bureau of Mines, Department of the Interior that I found online, mining in Mine Canyon began in the 1870s with small ores of copper, silver and gold extracted in what is now the "Whetstone Roadless area." The Nevada-Mascot and Two Peaks mines were in this region. Where those the two abandoned mines I found? The typed report further claims that

"Copper, gold, and silver are found disseminated in the quartz veins and
shear zones, as disseminations along seams and fractures in Laramlde porphyry dikes, and as pyrometasomatlc lenses near contacts with limestones of the Cretaceous Bisbee(?) Formation (Creasey, 1967) and the Pennsylvanlan-Permlan Naco Group (Keith, 1973, p. 91). Adits, shafts, open cuts, and shallow pits explore shear zones and quartz veins in a Laramide age granodiorite stock (Creasey, 1967).

Total production for individual properties is not known, but 36,048
Ibs of copper, 8 oz of gold, and 611 oz of silver were produced between 1955 and 1961 from the Neyada-Mascot, Two Peaks, and other small mines in the Mine Canyon area (U.S. Bureau of Mines, Mineral Information Locator System, (MILS), 1955-1961 data files, Intermountain Field Operations Center, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225)."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Murray Springs Trail

Distance: 4.6 miles
Level ground across desert landscape.
2.5 hours

My initial plan was to hike up Carr Peak late this morning, but the road to the trailhead is still closed. I had Sadie and Sammy with me, and then decided to drive back home for Sara. We all then drove on to the easy Murray Springs trail off Moson Road on the east side of town so that all three dogs could refresh themselves in the water. This trail is seldom used past the fossil dig site.

It was warm and windy today, and I quickly regretted not having worn a hat to keep the sun off my head. The wind blew sand which created a hazy, sandy vista.

This is a near-linear trail of about 2.3 miles one way to the San Pedro river, passing an abandoned railroad path to where a bridge once carried the trains over the river. The only thing left are the bridge masts.

It takes about an hour to walk this trail at a leisurely pace, but it took me longer since I stopped a few times for the dogs to drink water. This is perfect Chihuahua desert landscape, with agave, yucca, mesquite, cholla and catclaw growing.

The cottonwoods are now in bloom, but the mesquite is still stunted by last month's deep freeze.

The dogs seemed to enjoy this easy walk. I watched Sara, determined to turn around if she showed signs of exhaustion, but she trekked on with the rest. Sadie, who hadn't been out on a walk all week, had a blast.

The dogs found a shortcut to the river, which was a faint trail along the railroad. I could feel the heat radiate from the slag. Turns out today's humidity was as low as 1%, and my lips were chapped.

We got to the river at 1:15pm and stayed there for 45 minutes to give the dogs a rest. I sat in the shade of the old bridge and soon the dogs joined me. I could hear birds sing but didn't see any. The river flowed peacefully and clear past us.

I had forgotten the dogs' treats and all I had was an apple.

We returned to the car at 2:10pm, walking without breaks back to the car which I reached by 2:50pm. The dogs looked tired, perhaps more from the heat than from the walk. The wind picked up as the day grew on, with gusts as high as 30mph.

This walk took place instead of the neighborhood walk I've been doing in the evenings with the dogs. Once back home, I did some more gardening, planting a few more bean seedlings, although the increasing wind quickly made me regret that move.

More later.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Bisbee Loop Trail

Distance: 4 miles (shuold have been 5 miles had we done the entire loop)
Elevation: from around 5300' to 6100'

I had been wanting to do this hike for quite a while and today five others joined me for a leisurely-paced hike around the golden hills of Bisbee. Big Steve, Frank, Valerie, Michael, Kevin and I with Sadie did this hike. This was Kevin's first hike in quite a while. We parked in the free parking lot behind the Old Stock Exchange Saloon in the lower Brewery Gulch and walked up the half mile to the trailhead, passing by quite an assortment of shabby cottages to small artisan homes. In one lot it looked like an old VW buss was used as a home, parked high up on a trashy hillside. Dogs barked, Sadie barked back, but this time no dogs came chasing after her. She was on the leash until we hit the trail and were to ourselves.

One 20-something-year-old man, with unkempt blonde hair, wearing an old and well-worn brown-leather jacket and black jeans, came down the trail toward us. He was camped off the road in an old greenish tent. We saw him later selling his artwork in front of the old Mining Museum. Turns out he's a "traveling artist" by the name of Montigue, but like many street artists in Bisbee, they don't make a great living and don't last. Valerie gave him a small monetary contribution but didn't buy anything from him.

Looking back now I wish I hadn't made everyone scramble up the dry creekbed. I saw the sharp right turn going east and we stayed on a northerly course; I was hoping we would run into another trail further up. We didn't. We managed to cut off a mile from the course but it was a butt-kicker. And the views from that first ridge into Sandy Bob Canyon and the lower hills of Tombstone would have been a nice view, too.

But, noone got hurt and seemed OK with the shortcut. Once we made it up the ridgeline it was fairly level there and easy, with pretty views all around. One can see the misty blue mountains of Mexico.

It was sunny but a little on the windy side. It felt like it was in the 60s today. Any signs of snow from last weekend were none-existant.

Once we were on the ridgeline it was all downhill from there. We straddled the ridge that was closest to the old mining homes. The trail came out at the Laundry Hill exit (although there were other options we could have explored), but we could have stayed on the trail another half mile and existed at the water tank in Old Towne. We ended up walking the last 1.5 miles down the Main Street with Sadie pulling on the leash the whole time.

Although a tad pricy at $4.50 for a 16-ounce glass, the beers are good. I had the Belgian Whitbier but it looked like a lemon malt; the brew was very cloudy. It was nonetheless tasty. The second beer was the Pilsner, but I felt its malt was a tad too strong. Kevin had the Copper Ale, which seems to be the local favorite. The alcoholic range went from 4.6 for my Whitbier to an impressive 7.9 for its Stout.

We got to the microwbrewery at around 12:30pm with just a few guys at the bar. We left an hour later with full seating. I enjoyed talking with everyone, with Mike, Valerie and Frank being our newest and more active members. The Old Bisbee brewpub is a place I'd recommend visiting friends to try. The only food it sells for now are white bratwursts served with a small bag of potato chips, and fresh popcorn is free, but the owners may expand on that later.

We sat at two round tables with a view of the town. The Old Bisbee Microwbrewery has only been open for a year (its first-year anniversary was 3 March) but its clientele seem to be growing. The owner-brewers were there but I failed to chat much with them. Experienced brewers and wine makers, they both hail from Washington state.

I could spend a whole weekend in Bisbee exploring the side streets. There is something new I see every time. Today it seemed there were many more homes than usual for sale, from small 1000-square-feet historic buildings up Brewery Gulch selling for $189,000 to practically condemned 980-square-feet lots selling for $65,000 with no room for parking to totally

remodeled 2000-square-feet former boarding homes. We only touched the surface, but I could easily map out a 10 or 15-mile walking adventure in and around Bisbee and call it a day, then feast at one of the many tasty eateries in town. This is a place where a very eclectic group of people come. Today the town seemed rather quiet; nothing was on the town's event schedule until tonight with its Spring concert.

Kevin liked this hike and is willing to do this one again with the complete hike.