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The Chiricahua Mountains (1967)

by Weldon F. Heald

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This book is in some ways similar to my favorite book about living in the desert, and so, as with that week's book, in lieu of a review here are some excerpts:

  • If life were longer, I would make tape recordings of windmills.
  • If Rodeo were more Western, it would have to be moved out into the Pacific. The place resembles a frontier movie set, and one can visualize a grim Marshall Dillon issuing from between the swinging doors of the Long Branch to outdraw a killer in the middle of the street. Rodeo has no saloons now, only taverns with recorded a-go-go background music. That's how effete the Old West has become.
  • After being towed to Rodeo and later receiving a goodly repair bill, I believe the garageman told us the finnegan pin jammed, closing the fluter valve. I can't be sure now.
  • The most interesting exhibit to me is the stuffed jaguar. He was shot in 1912, the last of his kind to be seen in the Chiricahuas. Sometimes weighing as much as two hundred and fifty pounds, tawny, black-spotted "El Tigre" is runner-up cat to the lion and tiger in size but bows to none other in strength and agility. The jaguar ranges from Argentina to Mexico and once strayed as far north as Arkansas and Colorado. No more magnificent exemplar of wild America exists, but instant death is the penalty for crossing the line into the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
  • Our ranch was unique ... it was originally homesteaded by Stephan Reed in 1879. Across the meadow the Reed cabin still stands, shaded by a spreading walnut tree. [Reed] must have been an exceptionally warm and personable human being. Around him on all sides whites were shot, clubbed to death, and tortured by Indians, but neither Reed nor his family were molested, and he was never forced to raise a gun in self-defense. Yet each fall he drove his cattle to the railroad, thirty-five miles north, and took wagon-loads of big red apples and farm produce through Apache-infested country to the mining camp of Silver City, over in New Mexico. He also sold meat and vegetables in hard-bitten Galeyville, five miles north on Turkey Creek, and had no trouble with Curley Bill, John Ringo, Johnny Behind-the-Deuce, or other gun-toting rustlers and smugglers hiding out from the law. Most surprising of all, Stephan Reed was presumably the only white man in the Territory on friendly terms with Geronimo. The story goes that the malevolent Apache chief often visited the cabin and sometimes camped with his braves at the Reed place.
  • The Chiricahuas contain a greater concentration, a wider variation of wildlife, vegetation, and climatic conditions than any other area of similar size in the United States. The difference in climate between the arid, cactus-studded outer slopes and the dense coniferous forests on top is as great as one would encounter on a 2,000-mile trip north to Canada's Hudson Bay.
  • Out under the brilliant Arizona sun, with a hundred-mile sweep of country for a background, people are still important, but they fail to remain individually impressive. Nature quickly whittles them down to size. This is perhaps why class distinctions are practically non-existent and a man is never rated by his business or position. He stands or falls by what he is, not what he has. At rural parties and community gatherings everyone from cooks and cow punchers to prospectors, dudes, and tycoons, mixes in easy coequal familiarity. Movie stars, high politicos, industrial magnates, authors, and scientists come and go in southeastern Arizona. No one asks for their autographs, there aren't any welcoming committees, not a telephone book is torn as they pass, and no bunting flies. In short, nobody seems to care.
  • But our deep feeling is that it isn't necessary to know the names, pedigrees, and chemical composition of objects in order to enjoy them. This is an age of specialists, but most of them I know miss a lot. We met birders whose eyes saw only feathers; rockhounds who missed the view because what they sought was at their feet; photographers who believed the only good color shots were flowers; and fishermen whose interests were wholly sub-aqueous. Better, it seems to me, is to be a general practitioner of the out-of-doors, and let who will be specialists. Knowing a little about a great deal can be more satisfying than knowing a great deal about a very little. In that way one gains an awareness of the multiple wonders of this amazing sky island and becomes rich in experience and fulfillment.
  • Recently a big-circulation outdoors magazine carried an article on the ringtail cat, calling him a savage killer and the fiercest fighter for his weight in the animal kingdom. It suggested that even humans aren't safe from unprovoked attack. Such exaggerations are often used by the gun fraternity as psychological justification for killing small, inoffensive, non-edible animals. It is dignified by the name of predator control, and gives hunters the ennobling illusion that they are doing a valuable public service by ridding the world of ravening wild beasts.
  • Hair-raising tales are told of hordes of these supposedly fierce wild pigs running people up trees and keeping them prisoners there, but there is some difference of opinion about the degree of their hostility. I have never heard of the collared species attacking a man. However, they show no fear whatever and every javelina I have met was as good as I am -- knew it, and knew that I knew it.
  • An often quoted statement of Thoreau's is: "In wildness is the preservation of the world." I'm not sure I quite understood its meaning until we lived in the heart of the Chiricahua Mountains. The venture was an escape certainly, a partial release from the increasing strains and pressures of our atomic, computerized, space-age civilization. But I believe it was an escape to reality rather than away from it.
  • Southeastern Arizona is a climatic paradox. Right in the middle of North America's driest and hottest deserts, Nature plumped a roomy oasis of ten thousand square miles. Here along the Mexican border are places where summers are cooler than the Middle West, yet January is as balmy as central Georgia or Mississippi.
  • In the Southwest temperatures drop sharply with increasing altitude. The lapse rate is generally about 1 degree F. for every 300 feet, which is roughly equivalent to a north-south difference of 300 miles for each 1,000 feet in elevation. This puts the top of Flys Peak climatically about 1,680 miles north of Rodeo.
  • I have never sniffed glue, smoke marijuana or taken a "trip" with LSD. For "kicks" give me the wilderness. One night I sat on the tiptop of Monte Vista Peak in the Chiricahuas and looked down into the black void of Sulphur Spring Valley, a vertical mile below. There pinpoints of moving lights indicated lilliputian automobiles on the highway. Suddenly I was aware of a surge of irresistible power within me, and felt that I could descend the mountain and the become governor of Arizona. Nothing could stop me, and at the time it seemed an easy and logical thing to do. Next morning my political ambitions were gone, but the tingling exhiliration lingered. After scrambled eggs and bacon I decided to settle for being a world famous writer. So maybe we should include the wilderness in the category of psychedelic or mind-expanding drugs.
  • But perhaps the greatest value in following these lofty skyland trails was the peace and satisfaction best found in Nature's unspoiled places. When the going gets tough down here below, I close my eyes and imagine myself on the crest of the Chiricahuas with the world at my feet.

    No better tranquilizer was ever invented.